June 21, 2006

New science shows greenhouse gases under: reported

By Jeremy Lovell

LONDON (Reuters) - Many countries may be grossly
underestimating the quantity of greenhouse gases they emit
according to a new method of monitoring output, scientists said
on Wednesday.

The new "top-down" system measures the actual amount of
gases such as carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere,
compared with the traditional "bottom-up" method which
estimates what is likely to be produced on the ground.

The findings, still the subject of scientific debate, could
destabilise the European Union's fledgling carbon trading
system and have implications for the Kyoto treaty.

"Work at the (European Commission's) Joint Research Center
(JRC) in Italy suggests huge under-reporting of many national
CH4 (methane) emissions," said Euan Nisbet of London's Royal
Holloway University.

"Top-down science is still somewhat in its infancy. But the
gas they measure is there, not an estimate of what they think
should be there," he told Reuters.

According to work by Peter Bergamaschi at the JRC in Ispra,
Italy, top-down science suggests that Britain may be reporting
only half its actual methane emissions and France only
two-thirds, the magazine New Scientist said on Wednesday.

By contrast, Ireland and Finland may be over-reporting the
methane coming from their peat bogs.

Britain defended its estimates on Wednesday, saying they
were calculated in line with international guidelines reviewed
each year by independent international experts.

The government's Department of Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs (DEFRA) said in a statement that it believed
Bergamaschi overestimated British methane emissions by at least

"Bergamaschi's work cannot separate natural methane
emissions from man-made ones. There is significant uncertainty
in how much natural methane is produced in the UK, which is
carried into Bergamaschi's model," DEFRA said.

Nisbet said making the same calculations for carbon
dioxide, more plentiful but less damaging, was more

The world needed a chain of monitoring stations, similar to
the seismic system set up in the 1950s to monitor nuclear bomb
tests, he said.

Nisbet said China, which is building a coal-fired power
station a week to fuel its booming economy, had good monitoring
as had Canada, as well as Kyoto refuseniks the United States
and Australia.

There was virtually no monitoring in South Asia, very
little in Africa and the tropical oceans were scantily covered.