Global Warming:

Difficulties Assessing Countries' Progress Stabilizing Emissions of Greenhouse Gases

RCED-96-188: Published: Sep 4, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO evaluated the United States and other countries' progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by year 2000.

GAO found that: (1) incomplete, unreliable, and inconsistent data prevent a complete assessment of these countries' efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2000; (2) the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has compiled data emissions from 29 countries since February 1996; (3) all 29 countries reported 1990 data on carbon dioxide, 28 countries reported similar data for methane and nitrous oxide, and 8 countries did not provide projections to 2000 for at least one of the gases; (4) the level of uncertainty in emissions data is high since some countries adjusted their 1990 inventory levels to develop more reasonable projections for year 2000; (5) the Convention's reporting guidelines do not specify whether emissions' projections should be reported as gross emissions or net emissions; (6) this lack of detail affects the completeness and comparability of emissions inventories; (7) Germany and the United Kingdom are the only major developed countries that are likely to return to 1990 emissions levels by 2000; (8) energy use is the major factor affecting Annex I countries' ability to meet 1990 greenhouse levels by 2000; (9) efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are hampered by changes in key economic variables; and (10) the adoption of revised reporting guidelines will help to ensure that complete and reliable emissions data are reported.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: New reporting guidelines were adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in July 1996 at the urging of the State Department. The State Department believes that the new guidelines will improve the transparency of emissions data in the national communications of parties to the Convention and therefore make it easier to assess those countries' progress against any new commitments adopted under the Convention.

    Recommendation: As part of ongoing international negotiations, the Secretary of State should encourage the United States to urge that reporting standards be formulated and adopted for any new targets beyond 2000 in order to enhance the completeness, reliability, and consistency of emissions data.

    Agency Affected: Department of State


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