Friday, August 19, 2011

Fudging in greenhouse gas stats?

EMPA, which is part of ETH (Switzerland): Fluorinated hydrocarbons are potent greenhouse gases, emission of which must be reduced under the Kyoto Protocol. If you rely on the official reports of the participating countries, the output of trifluoromethane (HFC-23) in Western Europe is indeed significantly decreasing. However, pollutant measurements carried out by Empa now reveal that several countries under-report their emissions. For instance, Italy emits 10 to 20 times more HFC-23 than it officially reports.

International agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) basically have one snag: it is almost impossible to independently verify whether participating countries abide by the agreement. Thus the evaluation of whether or not the countries have achieved their reduction targets is based on the official reports by the countries that are signatories to the UNFCCC (‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’). If they report reduced emissions they're sitting pretty; if not, they are pilloried.

This could change soon. Pollutant analyses by Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, – at the Jungfraujoch research station at 3580 metres above sea level, among others – using a special gas chromatograph mass spectrometer called ‘MEDUSA’ not only enables the emission levels of more than 50 halogenated GHG to be quickly and precisely evaluated; they also make it possible to identify the emission sources regionally, thanks to atmospheric and meteorological computer models. The sobering result: Western Europe emits around twice as much HFC-23 as officially reported. A corresponding study was recently published in the journal ‘Geophysical Research Letters’.

“Our results show that these types of measurements really are suitable for checking compliance with international agreements on air pollution control”, says Empa researcher Stefan Reimann from the ‘Air Pollution/Environmental Technology’ laboratory. It is true that the Kyoto Protocol did not specify any independent control mechanisms; this could, however, be of central importance in subsequent agreements with binding emission targets...

The Jungfrau in the Swiss Alps, where the atmospheric measurements in this study were taken, shot by Peter Alder, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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