China, India, Indonesia, Brazil Can’t Estimate Their Greenhouse Gas Emissions—Latest Figures are From 1994

By Chris Neefus | August 23, 2010 | 10:31 PM EDT

Former Vice President Al Gore at the U.N. Climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Monday, Dec. 14, 2009. (AP Photo/Anja Niedringhaus)

( - Even as the Obama administration seeks to negotiate an international treaty to cap manmade greenhouse gas emissions, many of the world’s most egregious producers of greenhouse gasses cannot accurately estimate how much gas they currently emit, according to a recent report from Government Accountability Office.
The GAO examined the greenhouse-gas-emission estimates made by seven developed countries listed as “Annex I” nations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and seven developing countries listed as “non-Annex I” nations (Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, and South Korea) under the framework. The study found that the lack of accurate data and reporting on greenhouse-gas emissions from non-Annex I nations complicates the efforts for global climate policies.
“High quality and comparable information on national greenhouse gas emissions is critical to designing and implementing international responses to climate change,” said the GAO. “We found that the inventories from seven selected high emitting non-Annex I nations were generally outdated, not comparable, and of lower quality than inventories from Annex I nations. The existing gap in quality and comparability of inventories across developed and developing nations makes it more difficult to establish and monitor international agreements, since actions by both developed and developing nations will be necessary to address climate change under future international agreements."

Even Great Britain, an Annex I country, can only estimate its greenhouse-gas emissions within a margin of error (or an “uncertainty” estimate, as the report calls it) of 13 percent, said the GAO.
Russia, also an Annex I country, can only estimate its greenhouse gas emissions within a margin of error of 40 percent.
Yet Great Britain and Russia did much better than most of the seven non-Annex I countries whose greenhouse-gas-emission estimates were reviewed by the GAO.
China, a non-Annex I country, has no idea how much greenhouse gas it has emitted in recent years. The only year for which it has ever produced an estimate is 1994, and it did not determine the margin of error for that estimate of 16-year-old gas emissions.
India and Malaysia had likewise only made estimates of their greenhouse gas emissions for 1994 and they did not determine what their margins of error were either.
Indonesia and Brazil have produced estimates for 1990-1994. Indonesia’s margin of error was not determined. But Brazil’s margin of error was 22 percent—considerably better than Russia’s 40 percent but not nearly as good as Great Britain’s 13 percent. South Korea had completed an estimate for its greenhouse-gas emissions for as recently as 2001, but did not include an estimate of its margin of error. Mexico completed an estimate for as recently as 2006 and estimated a margin of error of 7 percent.
The “uncertainty”--or margin of error--in the annual estimates of greenhouse-gas emission made by the U.S. government ranged from 3 percent to 7 percent. Japan was more precise, producing estimates that had an “uncertainty” of only 1 percent
The “uncertainty” in Russia’s estimate was so great it actually was greater than the entirety of Canada’s greenhouse-gas emissions for 2007.
“Russia reported overall uncertainty of about plus or minus 40 percent,” said the GAO. “That equates to an uncertainty of 800 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, slightly more than Canada’s total emissions in 2007. Russia’s relatively large uncertainty estimate could stem from several factors, such as less precise national statistics.”
The inability of the non-Annex I nations analyzed by GAO to estimate their greenhouse-gas emissions is significant because these nations are expected to account for much of the future increase in these emissions.
“China, a non-Annex I nation, recently overtook the United States as the world’s largest emitter, according to some estimates,” said GAO. “According to Energy Information Administration projections, non-Annex I nations may contribute nearly all of the growth of global fossil-fuel related emissions through 2030. Because of this expected growth, emissions reductions will be needed from high-emitting nations, including non-Annex I nations, to stabilize the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”
Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, had originally requested that the GAO report on the quality and comparability of nations’ estimates of their greenhouse gas emissions in February of 2009--before the House in July 2009 passed a controversial cap-and-trade bill that would place limits on how much carbon dioxide the United States could emit annually.
Barton said the lack of greenhouse gas emissions from major emitters such as China, Brazil and India was “worrisome.”
“We’re concerned that emissions information from the fastest growing developing countries, including China and India, were 12 years older than what the United States and other developed nations had reported,” said Barton.

“It’s also worrisome that China, Brazil, India and other major developing nations still refuse to match their reporting regimes to those of the developed world even as they rapidly surpass both us and Europe in the amount of greenhouse gases they produce,” said Barton.
Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), who was the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations when the GAO report was requested, suggested it made little sense to move ahead with regulating U.S. emissions when there was not accurate reporting on the emissions of other nations.
“Before the Obama administration and Speaker Pelosi clamp down on American jobs with new global warming regulations, wouldn’t it make sense to make sure we can trust the measuring regimes of other countries?” asked Walden.
“Americans want to do the right thing for the environment,” he said, “but we don’t need to play by one set of rules while our economic competitors play by another.”