Nav: Home

Uncertainty in emissions estimates in the spotlight

August 19, 2019

National or other emissions inventories of greenhouse gases that are used to develop strategies and track progress in terms of emissions reductions for climate mitigation contain a certain amount of uncertainty, which inevitably has an impact on the decisions they inform. IIASA researchers contributed to several studies in a recently published volume that aims to enhance understanding of uncertainty in emissions inventories.

Estimates of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are important for many reasons, but it is crucial to acknowledge that these values have a certain level of uncertainty that has to be taken into account. If, for example, two estimates of emissions from a country are different, it does not necessarily imply that one or both are wrong - it simply means that there is an uncertainty that needs to be recognized and dealt with. A special issue of the Springer journal Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, aims to enhance understanding of uncertainty in estimating GHG emissions and to provide guidance on dealing with the resulting challenges. IIASA researchers and colleagues from other international institutions including the Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine, the Systems Research Institute at the Polish Academy of Sciences, and Appalachian State University in the US, contributed to the 13 papers featured in the publication, addressing questions such as the size of the uncertainty dealt with, how to deal with this, and how uncertainty might be decreased.

According to the researchers, there are ways to decrease uncertainty but these are often difficult and ultimately expensive. In their respective papers, they point out that there are seven important issues that currently dominate our understanding of uncertainty. These include 1) verification; 2) avoidance of systemic surprises; 3) uncertainty informing policy; 4) minimizing the impact of uncertainty; 5) full GHG accounting; 6) compliance versus reporting; and 7) changes in emissions versus changes in the atmosphere.

In terms of how uncertainty in observations and modeling results can influence policy decisions on climate change mitigation, some of the papers also looked at how decision-making procedures can be improved to produce more fair rules for checking compliance and how information around emission inventories can be communicated to make it more transparent and easier to understand. The authors explain that understanding the uncertainties is very important both for those who do the calculations or modeling and for the consumers of this information, like policymakers or consultants, as it provides an indication of how much they can rely on the data, in other words, how "strong" the conclusions are and how sure the decisions derived from the data can be.

"Uncertainty is higher for some GHGs and some sectors of an inventory than for others. This raises the option that, when future policy agreements are being designed, some components of a GHG inventory could be treated differently from others. The approach of treating subsystems individually and differently would allow emissions and uncertainty to be looked at simultaneously and would thus allow for differentiated emission reduction policies," explains Matthias Jonas, an IIASA researcher in the Advanced Systems Analysis Program and one of the editors of the special issue. "The current policy approach of ignoring inventory uncertainty altogether (inventory uncertainty was monitored, but not regulated, under the Kyoto Protocol) is problematic. Being aware of the uncertainties involved, including those resulting from our systems views, will help to strengthen future political decision making."

The authors all agree that dealing with uncertainty is often not a quick exercise but rather involves a commitment that is painstaking and long-term. Proper treatment of uncertainty can be costly in terms of both time and effort because it necessitates taking the step from "simple" to "complex" in order to grasp a wider and more holistic systems view. Only after that step has been taken, is it possible to consider simplifications that may be warranted.

"Decision makers want certainty, the public wants certainty, but certainty is not achievable. We can work with the best information available and we have to keep moving forward and learning. I think that we need to convince data users such as policymakers or the public that uncertainty in these kinds of numbers is normal and expected and does not mean that the numbers are not useful," says study author Gregg Marland from Appalachian State University in the US.

Special edition co-editor Rostyslav Bun from Lviv Polytechnic National University in Ukraine confirms this sentiment and in conclusion adds: "The presence of uncertainties in estimates of GHG emissions may suggest that we have to devote more energy to decreasing uncertainties or it may simply mean that we need to be prepared to deal with a future that includes a certain measure of uncertainty."

Jonas M, Bun R, Nahorski Z, Marland G, Gusti M, & Danylo O (2019). Quantifying Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Introduction. In: Special Issue, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change DOI: 10.1007/s11027-019-09867-4 []

For more information contact:

Matthias Jonas
Senior Research Scholar
Advanced Systems Analyses Program
Tel: +43 2236 807 430

Ansa Heyl
Press Officer
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 574
Mob: +43 676 83 807 574

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe.

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Science Articles:

75 science societies urge the education department to base Title IX sexual harassment regulations on evidence and science
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today led 75 scientific societies in submitting comments on the US Department of Education's proposed changes to Title IX regulations.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, biopharma, and pharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2018 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Science in the palm of your hand: How citizen science transforms passive learners
Citizen science projects can engage even children who previously were not interested in science.
Applied science may yield more translational research publications than basic science
While translational research can happen at any stage of the research process, a recent investigation of behavioral and social science research awards granted by the NIH between 2008 and 2014 revealed that applied science yielded a higher volume of translational research publications than basic science, according to a study published May 9, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Xueying Han from the Science and Technology Policy Institute, USA, and colleagues.
Prominent academics, including Salk's Thomas Albright, call for more science in forensic science
Six scientists who recently served on the National Commission on Forensic Science are calling on the scientific community at large to advocate for increased research and financial support of forensic science as well as the introduction of empirical testing requirements to ensure the validity of outcomes.
World Science Forum 2017 Jordan issues Science for Peace Declaration
On behalf of the coordinating organizations responsible for delivering the World Science Forum Jordan, the concluding Science for Peace Declaration issued at the Dead Sea represents a global call for action to science and society to build a future that promises greater equality, security and opportunity for all, and in which science plays an increasingly prominent role as an enabler of fair and sustainable development.
PETA science group promotes animal-free science at society of toxicology conference
The PETA International Science Consortium Ltd. is presenting two posters on animal-free methods for testing inhalation toxicity at the 56th annual Society of Toxicology (SOT) meeting March 12 to 16, 2017, in Baltimore, Maryland.
Citizen Science in the Digital Age: Rhetoric, Science and Public Engagement
James Wynn's timely investigation highlights scientific studies grounded in publicly gathered data and probes the rhetoric these studies employ.
Science/Science Careers' survey ranks top biotech, pharma, and biopharma employers
The Science and Science Careers' 2016 annual Top Employers Survey polled employees in the biotechnology, biopharmaceutical, pharmaceutical, and related industries to determine the 20 best employers in these industries as well as their driving characteristics.
Three natural science professors win TJ Park Science Fellowship
Professor Jung-Min Kee (Department of Chemistry, UNIST), Professor Kyudong Choi (Department of Mathematical Sciences, UNIST), and Professor Kwanpyo Kim (Department of Physics, UNIST) are the recipients of the Cheong-Am (TJ Park) Science Fellowship of the year 2016.
More Science News and Science Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Teaching For Better Humans 2.0
More than test scores or good grades–what do kids need for the future? This hour, TED speakers explore how to help children grow into better humans, both during and after this time of crisis. Guests include educators Richard Culatta and Liz Kleinrock, psychologist Thomas Curran, and writer Jacqueline Woodson.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#556 The Power of Friendship
It's 2020 and times are tough. Maybe some of us are learning about social distancing the hard way. Maybe we just are all a little anxious. No matter what, we could probably use a friend. But what is a friend, exactly? And why do we need them so much? This week host Bethany Brookshire speaks with Lydia Denworth, author of the new book "Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life's Fundamental Bond". This episode is hosted by Bethany Brookshire, science writer from Science News.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 3: Shared Immunity
More than a million people have caught Covid-19, and tens of thousands have died. But thousands more have survived and recovered. A week or so ago (aka, what feels like ten years in corona time) producer Molly Webster learned that many of those survivors possess a kind of superpower: antibodies trained to fight the virus. Not only that, they might be able to pass this power on to the people who are sick with corona, and still in the fight. Today we have the story of an experimental treatment that's popping up all over the country: convalescent plasma transfusion, a century-old procedure that some say may become one of our best weapons against this devastating, new disease.   If you have recovered from Covid-19 and want to donate plasma, national and local donation registries are gearing up to collect blood.  To sign up with the American Red Cross, a national organization that works in local communities, head here.  To find out more about the The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project, which we spoke about in our episode, including information on clinical trials or plasma donation projects in your community, go here.  And if you are in the greater New York City area, and want to donate convalescent plasma, head over to the New York Blood Center to sign up. Or, register with specific NYC hospitals here.   If you are sick with Covid-19, and are interested in participating in a clinical trial, or are looking for a plasma donor match, check in with your local hospital, university, or blood center for more; you can also find more information on trials at The National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. And lastly, Tatiana Prowell's tweet that tipped us off is here. This episode was reported by Molly Webster and produced by Pat Walters. Special thanks to Drs. Evan Bloch and Tim Byun, as well as the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.  Support Radiolab today at