Good greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories are crucial: by knowing the amounts and sources of GHGs, policymakers can prioritize and design domestic strategies to reduce them. That’s why many countries are working to develop a national inventory system that is robust and sustainable. Many developing (“non-Annex I”) countries, in particular, are seeking to improve their national inventory systems in an effort to support domestic low-carbon goals, as well as start submitting regular reports to the UNFCCC by the end of this year that include a national GHG inventory.

Although there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to developing a sustainable national GHG inventory system, countries can learn from each other’s experiences: What’s worked and why? What hasn’t worked and why? And how have countries built their capabilities for compiling a national inventory over time?

At the GHG Measurement Frontline

Some non-Annex I countries already have made significant progress developing their national GHG inventory systems. We worked with in-country experts from Brazil, Colombia, India, Mexico, and South Africa to develop a series of case studies looking at the successes and challenges associated with initiating, managing, and improving their national systems.

In addition, we published a synthesis of some emerging good practices for developing a sustainable national GHG inventory system [I presented this paper in a recent webinar, co-hosted with UNDP’s Low-Emission Capacity Building Programme]. These recommendations from the GHG measurement “frontline,” are based on the experiences documented in the case study series and could help other non-Annex I countries grappling with national GHG inventory management concerns and capacity constraints.

Seven Emerging Good Practices

The seven emerging good practices for developing sustainable national GHG inventories are:

  • Sustain institutional arrangements. Having the same institutions involved in the national inventory process each time it is undertaken can help build a strong foundation for retaining institutional memory and facilitating oversight and accountability.

  • Identify and empower a lead agency to manage the national GHG inventory process. It’s not enough for a national government to assign an agency responsibility for the national inventory; that agency needs to be empowered with clear authority, technical expertise, and sufficient financial resources.

  • Create coordinating institutions for each sector, with well-defined roles, responsibilities, and processes. The lead agency may use sector coordinators or working groups to delegate to other entities some responsibility for portions of the national GHG inventory where technical expertise is more readily available. More importantly, coordination can also result in greater buy-in for the national inventory process, including data collection, promote interagency collaboration, and improve the overall quality of inventory information.

  • Establish detailed institutional mandates and data-sharing agreements that include work schedules. Institutional mandates, agreements, or memoranda of understanding keep everyone – from government agencies to external groups -- on the same page about what they are expected to contribute to the inventory. Setting clear expectations early on could also help save time and money.

  • Archive inventory information and retain institutional memory. Establishing archiving systems should be a first-order priority for countries looking to develop a sustainable national inventory system. Even if the solution isn’t highly technical, capturing the data and methods used, as well as information regarding processes, participants, and lessons learned will make the next inventory process easier.

  • Allocate sufficient, well managed, and sustained financial resources. The strategic allocation of money very much has a role to play in the adoption of almost all the other good practices we identified. One takeaway from our study is that countries often have to leverage other sources of funds, including “in kind” contributions from other federal initiatives, in addition to the money a country may receive from the Global Environment Facility—a funding mechanism for completing UNFCCC reports.

  • Improve the national GHG inventory system over time. This last good practice emphasizes that governments don’t need significant resources to initiate a sustainable national inventory system. No national inventory system is perfect and developing a robust inventory system takes time. Countries should start with the resources they have, build out the system in a strategic way, and regularly review to determine what improvements can be made.

Measure to Manage…and then Share

When building capacity for national inventories, the country-specific context matters. For example, some countries might have institutions and individuals with GHG measurement expertise whereas other countries do not but have well-established data-sharing arrangements among government agencies—it’s important to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses and then build on them.

Understanding the range of national inventory system needs and the potential solutions has value to both countries looking to develop a national inventory system and the capacity-building organizations and donors looking to support them. Although our synthesis working paper provides some important general good practices and country examples, the details offered in each national inventory case study illuminate the experiences of inventory practitioners in a very personal and relatable way. The further sharing of experiences with developing national inventory systems, both successes and failures, can help practitioners move from theory to implementation.