Global Warming

Difficulties Assessing Countries' Progress Stabilizing Emissions of Greenhouse Gases Gao ID: RCED-96-188 September 4, 1996

Industry, transportation, and agriculture are all responsible for increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping "greenhouse gases" in the earth's atmosphere. Climate models project a rise in the earth's average surface temperature of between two and six degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. To counter the potentially harmful consequences of climate change, the United States, other developed nations, the former Soviet Union, and other Eastern European states--collectively known as the countries of Annex I to the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change--agreed to return to 1990 levels their emissions of greenhouse gases by the year 2000. This report evaluates (1) the progress of the United States and other Annex I countries toward meeting their goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2000 and (2) major factors that affect their ability to reach that goal.

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.


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