More than 190 countries gathered in Lima, Peru in December 2014 to debate a future agreement to limit our carbon emissions to avoid dangerous climate change. Members of the Centre for Carbon Measurement at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) attended and presented its work to measure and verify greenhouse gas emissions and to follow the debate about how progress will be measured in the future.
Monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) was a major theme at the negotiations, in part because it is an area where significant progress is being made. For the first time in 2014, nations began to submit verifiable reports with information about their GHG emissions, actions to reduce emissions and funding provided to other developing nations to support similar activity. These reports will need to be submitted biennially and attention was being paid to those, including the UK, who were first to present their information.
Significant progress was made on MRV standards at the sub-national government level. A consortium of ICLEI, C40 and WRI launched the GPC - the Global Protocol for Community-Scale GHG Emissions Inventories. This is a consolidated standard for cities and other local governments to report their carbon footprints. Over 1,000 cities voluntarily report their greenhouse gas emissions and this new standard will ensure consistency and better comparability of data, so that best practice can be shared more easily and double counting can be avoided.
NPL will be working with some of these cities and the global organisations that support them in 2015, to verify areas of their carbon footprint and work towards a verification methodology which can be used by all cities.
However, there also there remain a number of important decisions to be taken on MRV.
Countries are expected to submit their emissions reduction targets ahead of the negotiations in Paris at the end of 2015, but as yet it is unclear how their progress against these targets will be tracked. There will need to be a standardised reporting format, including voluntary guidelines for developing countries, and a way for countries' inventories to be verified.
Another important aspect of MRV and achieving verifiable reports are accurate emissions measurement. At the conference, NPL's Rod Robinson presented about some of the work the Centre for Carbon Measurement is involved in to directly measure emissions from industrial sites rather than rely on inventory calculations alone. This is particularly important for new sectors where reliable emissions factors do not exist yet, such as shale gas extraction.
The US national measurement institute, NIST, was also present at the negotiations and hosted an event on real-time emissions monitoring, which could help identify errors in inventories. Atmospheric monitoring stations are established around a city, for example, which are then used to inverse model or 'check' against the inventory. Measured greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere therefore determine if the level the inventory predicts corresponds with the levels that are actually present. If there is a large discrepancy, it may be that the inventory is under- or over-estimating particular sources of emissions.
NPL has been involved in projects of this nature in the past, measuring emissions from around London during the Olympics, for example, and is due to contribute atmospheric greenhouse gas data to the UK government's monitoring programme from the UK's Divis station in Northern Ireland.
Real-time emissions monitoring is not going to be used to support inventory verification widely, but it will provide important information about how inventories can be improved over time. National measurement institutes clearly have a significant role to play in both supporting existing frameworks and undertaking research on the next generation of MRV systems.