Massive gap found between nations' reporting, actual emissions: analysis

A number of countries throughout the world are significantly underreporting the amount of greenhouse gases they emit, according to a new analysis from The Washington Post.

The Post, which examined United Nations reports from 196 countries, reported on Sunday that large gaps exist between emissions that nations report to the UN and the actual amount of greenhouse gases they release into the atmosphere.

Those discrepancies reportedly range from 8.5 billion to 13.3 billion tons of underreported emissions, which the newspaper said is a large enough statistic to have an impact on how warm the planet will become.

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Carbon dioxide, methane and powerful synthetic gases contributed to the gaps in the reported amount of emissions, according to the Post. Those three substances were underreported, though the first two were more grossly understated in UN reports.

Strange rules, unfinished reporting in some nations, deliberate mistakes in some countries and lax reporting requirements in other areas all led to the gaps in reporting, according to the Post.

At least 59 percent of the reporting discrepancies linked back to how countries record emissions from land, which is distinctive in the sense that it can be both helpful and harmful for climate, according to the Post.

Several countries have reportedly tried to counterbalance the emissions they see from burning fossil fuels by asserting that the land in their region absorbs the carbon. The UN permits countries to subtract a large number of tons of emissions from its statistics every year, but the newspaper noted that those rules may be contributing to the gaps.

The report comes on the heels of a number of world leaders convening in Glasgow, Scotland, to attend the COP26 summit, which focuses on climate change.

The Post examined a data set it created that was based on emission statistics countries have reported to the UN. For years where numbers were missing, the newspaper used a statistical model to roughly calculate the amount of emissions countries would have reported in 2019, then juxtaposed that with other scientific data sets that recorded global greenhouse gases.

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change told the Post that the discrepancies perceived in its report were a result of the use of “the application of different reporting formats and inconsistency in the scope and timeliness of reporting (such as between developed and developing countries, or across developing countries).”

When asked by the newspaper if the agency intends to confront the inconsistency, spokesman Alexander Saier said it is maintaining its work to bolster the reporting process, but did acknowledge that “more needs to be done, including finding ways to provide support to developing country Parties to improve their institutional and technical capacities.”

The Hill has reached out to the U.N. for comment.