Countries Underreport Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A Washington Post investigation found major discrepancies between actual emissions and the levels reported to the United Nations.

2 minute read

November 11, 2021, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Lano Lan / Shutterstock

A Washington Post investigation by Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, Desmond Butler, John Muyskens, Anu Narayanswamy, and Naema Ahmed found that "Across the world, many countries underreport their greenhouse gas emissions in their reports to the United Nations." The analysis revealed gaps ranging from 8.5 billion to 13.3 billion tons of undercounted emissions per year.

This underreporting means that the challenges of mitigating climate change and reducing emissions are even bigger than they seem. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which oversees global emissions reduction efforts, points to "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)" as reasons for the discrepancies. The authors, meanwhile, call it "the result of questionably drawn rules, incomplete reporting in some countries and apparently willful mistakes in others."

According to the article, key factors include subtractions made by countries based on the claim that land itself absorbs CO2, undercounted methane emissions, and underreported fluorinated gases.

The gap, the authors say, is caused in large part by the U.N.'s reporting system. "While the Paris agreement calls for a more transparent system by the end of 2024, it could take until 2030 to get to robust reporting — an eternity compared with the tight time frame the world needs to get it right."

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