NATIONAL ACADEMY OF SCIENCES, WASHINGTON — A global clearinghouse for greenhouse gas emissions information should be created to support decision-makers working to address climate change, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Such a clearinghouse could facilitate new ways of estimating emissions and transition research findings to operations more quickly. Emissions information should be improved so that it is more usable, timely, transparent, inclusive, and complete—and should be validated and communicated in a way that is useful for decision-makers.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions Information for Decision-Making: A Framework Going Forward says policymakers and other leaders increasingly need to understand and use information about greenhouse gas emissions, but it can be difficult for them to evaluate the relevance, utility, and accuracy of this information. Decisions based on high-quality emissions information are critical to meeting global targets to reduce greenhouse gases and mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Improving emissions information would enhance climate predictions and enable a more focused and rigorous response to climate change, says the report.
“From the decision-makers gathering this November at the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties to state and city leaders trying to meet climate targets, it’s clear that emissions information needs to be as accurate, transparent, and timely as possible to meet the needs of these decision-makers,” said Donald Wuebbles, emeritus professor of atmospheric science at the University of Illinois, and chair of the committee that wrote the report. “Emissions information has already enabled the global community to take monumental steps to address climate change, like establishing emissions reduction targets under the Paris Agreement and tracking progress made toward these goals. Improving not just the quality of emissions information but also the way it’s communicated and presented would enable further progress in the coming decades.”
Global Greenhouse Gas Information Clearinghouse
The report says greenhouse gas emissions information should be better coordinated across the global community through the creation of an international information clearinghouse or federation of data centers. This global coordination could enable the creation of standards and practices so that those using emissions information could quickly understand its quality. This coordination should leverage, rather than replace, existing national and international programs.
Serving Cities, States, and Provinces
Collection of emissions information that is more location-specific and measured on shorter time scales should be accelerated to meet the rapidly increasing needs of cities, states, and provinces to manage their emissions. The report says leaders on these more local levels have emerged as critical climate policy actors in the past few decades, and information that is more granular could help them establish baselines, identify the most effective mitigation strategies, and track progress. More detailed information about the full range of emissions sources is also needed.
Employing New Strategies and Improving Emissions Information
Hybrid approaches that integrate several methods of estimating greenhouse gas emissions would provide more accurate, timely, and comprehensive information that is more useful for decision-makers, says the report. Many approaches for estimating emissions are developed using just one data source or observational tool. A more integrated and complementary approach would overcome the gaps and weaknesses of methods used in isolation. New tools and greater synergy between air quality, meteorology, and greenhouse gas data collection and analysis could support the development of hybrid approaches.
The report says the accuracy and representativeness of the underlying data used to produce emissions information should be improved, and that there are many opportunities for researchers and institutions to embrace new strategies and devote resources to this effort. For example, data collected by monitoring the atmosphere may be biased toward areas of the world with high scientific capacity, and emissions data derived from countries with well-quantified energy statistics may be less accurate when applied to estimates for other areas of the world.
Researchers and institutions that produce greenhouse gas emissions information should:
- Clearly communicate the data and methods underpinning their work, as well as uncertainties in their findings. Improved transparency of data collection, analysis, and validation methods is of the utmost importance to foster trust between information providers and users, the report says. Many analytical and modeling tools used to process emissions data are not publicly available, and data sets are often behind paywalls. Arguments about data validity can delay action and could lead to costly errors in mitigating emissions. Government purchase or resource allocation to bring data and methods into the public domain could have substantial near-term impacts.
- Transition new approaches and tools more quickly to operationalization, so they can be used to meet climate goals. The typical pace of transforming research into usable approaches for estimating emissions is too slow to meet the demand for information from decision-makers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with urgency. A quicker transition to operations would require scientists, research funders, and data users to lower existing barriers—such as capacity limits or a lack of long-term funding.
- Engage decision-makers and stakeholders in an iterative research process. Climate mitigation policy is limited by the time lag between new research being completed and its integration into emissions tools and estimates, which delays new information from signaling to decision-makers where investments, technology development, or mitigation might be needed. The report says incorporating decision maker input is critical for investment and developing information that is responsive to the evolving policy landscape.
Evaluating Emissions Information
The report identifies six criteria for evaluating emissions information: usability and timeliness; information transparency; evaluation and validation; completeness; inclusivity; and communication. This evaluation framework can be used by decision-makers and others to understand the utility and relevance of different types of greenhouse gas information, and guide the development of more useful and trustworthy information.
The report also includes case studies that demonstrate how the framework could be used to evaluate existing emissions information, such as a research effort to examine emissions for Indianapolis, estimations of methane emissions from the U.S. oil and gas sector, a study of China’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the Enhanced Transparency Framework — established by the 2015 Paris Agreement for country-level emissions reporting to the United Nations.
The study — undertaken by the Committee on Development of a Framework for Evaluating Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Information for Decision-Making — was sponsored by the Benificus Foundation, Heising-Simons Foundation, and National Academy of Sciences Arthur L. Day Fund.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine. They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.
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