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expert comments about greenhouse gas data and the Paris climate agreements, the subject of a BBC investigation

A BBC investigation looks at how countries are measuring levels greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the issues that arise from trying to record this data.


Dr Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate and Culture, King’s College London, said:

“The uncertainties and gaps revealed by this survey are one set of reasons why the aims of national and international climate policies should not be over-precise.  Both emissions targets and temperature targets have irreducible uncertainties associated with them; one should always be wary of ‘trusting in numbers’ to guide policy.  Better to target the underlying drivers of change (e.g. investment in low carbon energies; incentivising innovation; empowering communities; promoting socially just policies) rather than offer the illusion that the world’s climate, or energy-agricultural-social systems, can in any way be precision engineered.  This isn’t the world we live in.”


Prof Dave Reay, Chair in Carbon Management, University of Edinburgh, said:

“The global business of carbon bookkeeping is fast-evolving. A decade ago it was based largely on activity estimates, like how much coal a particular nation burned or how many cows it had. Advances in atmospheric measurements are now allowing us to sniff out unreported emissions and interrogate national budgets. The Paris climate agreement relies on good emissions accounting. Without it you can’t set the targets that will steer the world away from dangerous climate change. For climate change, the hackneyed adage ‘You can’t manage what you don’t measure’ remains as true as ever.”


Dr Heather Graven, Lecturer in Climate Physics and Earth Observation, Imperial College London:

“Atmospheric measurements are critical for monitoring greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.  Scientists have been using these data to estimate greenhouse gas emissions and evaluate and improve estimates of emissions based on accounting.  These studies are becoming more important as the Paris Agreement and other policies are implementing more restrictions on emissions, and as plans are being developed for the ‘global stocktakes’ to assess progress on Paris goals.  Atmospheric measurements can provide the ultimate test of some of these policies.

“Emissions of some greenhouse gases have large uncertainties, particularly emissions related to agriculture, because the emission processes are not well understood, they can be highly variable, and there is a need for more data about the activities causing emissions, such as fertilizer use.

“The main contributor to climate change is the combustion of fossil fuels, but some policies are focusing more heavily on reducing methane and HFCs in the short-term.  Emissions of these gases have large uncertainties and atmospheric measurements are very important for estimating emissions.

“The UK government is working closely with scientists to use atmospheric measurements to evaluate UK greenhouse gas emissions.”

* BBC documentary broadcast on Tuesday 8th August:


Declared interests

Dr Mike Hulme: No conflicts of interest

Prof Dave Reay: No interests declared

None others received.

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