Gap between Reported and Actual Emissions a Barrier to Effective Climate Legislation, Carbon-equivalent Trading

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Note to media covering COP-15, "Trust but Verify: Why Climate Legislation and Carbon-Equivalent Trading Need Atmospheric Emission Verification to Work" takes place
12:30 p.m., Dec. 10, in the Asger Jorn Room, Hall H, Bella Center.
Contact Robert Monroe 1-858-699-6828 or rmonroe@ucsd.edu

Emissions reduction legislation and carbon-equivalent trading markets that could be subject to negotiation at the COP-15 summit in Copenhagen need independent verification infrastructure to be effective and stable, say scientists at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.

Ray Weiss, a professor of geochemistry and an expert on trace gases, and Tony Haymet, director of Scripps Oceanography, will present "Trust but Verify: Why Climate Legislation and Carbon-equivalent Trading Need Atmospheric Emission Verification to Work," a press conference outlining recent findings concerning rates of greenhouse gas emissions.

"There is overwhelming evidence that actual global greenhouse gas emissions often bear little resemblance to reported ones," said Weiss.

Curtailing emissions of greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide plays a major role in current carbon-equivalent trading markets, but atmospheric researchers have found that "top-down" methods for determining emissions by measuring changes in the atmosphere can differ from those that are reported using "bottom-up" accounting methods.

Weiss will present recent findings on gases that pose significant verification challenges, including carbon tetrafluoride (CF4), the longest-lived PFC currently regulated by the Kyoto Protocol, with an atmospheric lifetime of 50,000 years, and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), the most powerful greenhouse gas regulated by Kyoto, that is 22,800 times more potent as a warming agent than CO2. CF4 is a byproduct of aluminum production, and SF6 is used as an insulator in high-voltage electric power equipment.

Weiss and colleagues garnered worldwide attention in 2008 when they reported that nitrogen trifluoride, an industrial gas 17,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as an atmospheric warming agent, is emitted into the atmosphere at a rate at least four times greater than industry estimates had suggested. This gas is widely used in the manufacture of flat-panel displays, computer microcircuits and thin-film solar panels.

Because emissions regulation legislation and carbon-equivalent trading are implemented on national and regional scales, rather than globally, there is a need to implement top-down atmospheric emissions verification on these same scales using regional atmospheric greenhouse gas measurements and regional atmospheric models. Haymet and Weiss will discuss examples of research in this area that could refine bottom-up regulatory inventories so that they are consistent with atmospheric measurements.

"We cannot hope to regulate greenhouse gas emissions effectively if we don't know what those emissions actually are," said Weiss. "Spending less than one percent of the $100 billion currently invested in the global carbon-equivalent trading market on solving this problem could have the dual benefit of increasing investment through stabilizing this volatile market and accelerating verifiable emissions reductions."

Additional Contacts

<p>Robert Monroe in Copenhagen<br /> 1-858-699-6828</p>

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