Dr. Renée Kidson on Accounting for Carbon: National Greenhouse Gas Inventories and International Reporting

On Thursday, January 23rd, the Luskin Center for Innovation hosted a lecture by Dr. Renée Kidson. Besides being an expert in water management, an economist, and a Major in the Australian Army, Dr. Kidson is also the Director of the Australian National Greenhouse Gas Inventory – she is the chief administrator for the process of tallying up, as best as possible, the total sum of greenhouse gases emitted throughout all of Australia.

With nations around the world struggling to adapt to the effects of climate change, there is a growing recognition of the importance of international cooperation to mitigate this global issue. The key UN treaty that seeks to regulate this area is the UNFCCC, which mandates that every signatory must submit a national greenhouse gas inventory annually.

Such a task is obviously immensely complex. Dr. Kidson elaborated a bit on the overview of how that task is accomplished, and where it can become problematic.

In Australia, as in most countries, 5 major domains account for most anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. Energy production
  2. Industrial processes
  3. Agriculture
  4. Waste
  5. Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry

Focusing on an overall emissions result can mask dynamic changes occurring in each of these areas.  Australia has actually successfully come in under its international GHG target for the last 5 years, mostly due to reforms and improvements in its land use and forestry policies.

One of the questions that comes up immediately is how reliable are the data that are aggregated in these projects. Dr. Kidson acknowledged that this is of course an incredible challenge – adjustments must be made for small or transient businesses that go unreported, statistical uncertainties, and other factors.  But she also highlighted complex mapping and software tools, stringent reporting and regulatory efforts, and a surprisingly participatory tone among Australia’s business community as factors that helped the government’s effort.

As an extra check on quality, and perhaps most emblematic of the amazing access to information possible in the modern age, the entire review is freely available to researchers, journalists, engineers, and the lay public at: http://ageis.climatechange.gov.au/

-Written by Nathan Otto, UCLA Public Policy Graduate Student

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