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Tracking Greenhouse Gases: 3 Factors for Successful National Inventories

This blog post was co-authored with Soffia Alarcon-Diaz, an intern with WRI's Climate and Energy program.

Measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) across different sectors is no easy feat. But creating a national inventory of GHGs is one important step for countries to take toward managing them. Starting in 2014, many developing countries will begin providing more frequent updates to their national inventories under guidelines from the COP 17 Durban Platform. How can they best meet international reporting requirements and, more importantly, use the development of their national inventory systems to support domestic low-carbon growth?

In a new set of case studies (see the text box) we have documented experiences from Brazil, Colombia, India, Mexico, and South Africa—countries that have already made notable efforts to develop robust national inventory systems. Each study explores critical aspects of these countries’ inventory processes and provides lessons that could benefit other countries looking to further develop their own systems.

3 Attributes of Successful National Greenhouse Gas Inventories

Although each national inventory system is unique, the case studies reveal several common attributes of successful inventory improvement. Here are three:

1) Build a team of sufficient, well-trained personnel in a single national coordinating agency.

For example, Mexico’s national inventory coordinating agency—the National Institute of Ecology and Climate Change (INECC)—relied heavily on specialists at external organizations, including an academic institution, to help prepare its first two national GHG inventories. In preparation for the third national inventory, INECC began to centralize the inventory expertise into one department, appointing coordinators for each one of the IPCC sectors. Consequently, these coordinators were able to gradually assume responsibility for overall inventory management and design, including quality control and the preparation and submission of the reports. This approach consolidated and strengthened overall inventory expertise within the government and has made it easier for practitioners to make improvements to the inventory process over time.

2) Define roles for effective inter-institutional coordination to facilitate regular collection, use, and archiving of data.

In Colombia, for example, the Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM)—the inventory coordinating agency—established interagency collaboration in the form of working groups. These groups facilitated data collection, ensured quality and flow of information, and identified data gaps across all IPCC sectors. Each group is composed of a sectoral coordinator and a mix of part-time staff from associated institutions. Within each working group, information is reviewed and country-specific activity data and emission factors are selected. The adoption of coordination agreements between key data providers and the lead inventory agency can help establish formal procedures for the planning, preparation, and management of national inventories, as well as identify roles and responsibilities of the organizations involved in its compilation.

3) Improve information by increasing access to accurate data and technical resources to support the inventory process.

Robust data, measurement systems, and other technical assets are essential for national inventories. For example, geospatial information can help inventory practitioners better track emissions from forest loss. India’s land use, land-use change, and forestry inventory has long had the support of a number of programs and projects aimed at providing quality data and improving technical capacities. Two examples include:

  • The National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC), which created a GIS-based information portal to disseminate the information derived from the Indian remote-sensing satellite; and

  • India’s Department of Space, which launched the land use and land cover mapping project to generate spatial information at various scales in real time.

By prioritizing technical developments, countries can dramatically improve the quality of data collected to ensure more accurate analyses and produce better inventories. (For additional examples, access the full suite of national GHG inventory case studies.)

Learning from Other Countries via Case Studies

These case studies show that countries can prepare GHG inventories when they commit trained people and adequate resources. And the benefit of laying the right foundation for inventories results in better data and more effective coordination.

Rather than developing inventory systems by “reinventing the wheel,” countries can build on practitioners’ collective expertise to create or strengthen country-specific solutions for national inventory development and hopefully do so in a way that saves time and money. In future case studies, we will be looking at how countries produce an inventory for the Industrial Processes and Product Use (IPPU) sector and the technical platforms and other tools countries use to facilitate inventory management.

  • LEARN MORE: This work is part of WRI’s Measurement and Performance Tracking (MAPT) initiative. MAPT partners with a range of stakeholders to develop tools, guidance, and research that support developing countries’ efforts to measure GHG emissions and track performance toward low-carbon development goals. Visit the project's webpage.

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