Who is building our global GHG MRV infrastructure?

July 26, 2010, by Michael Gillenwater

Sometimes it feels quite lonely here at GHG Management Institute headquarters. Toiling away trying to do what we think is needed to support the future of greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation policy. While most people who pay attention to the issue are obsessed with the politics of the moment, we work away behind the scenes thinking about and building infrastructure for the long-run. Indeed in today’s world of economic near-depression and policy gridlock, the unfortunate reality is that long-term infrastructure garners minimal attention.

What do I mean by infrastructure in this context? I mean those things that enable implementation of policy in all sectors and at all levels. I include in this list:

  1. The scientific knowledge necessary to understand the problem and the technologies to address it
  2. The legal and regulatory systems to manage the problem
  3. In this era of information technology, the information management and decision support systems necessary to address a global problem that is pervasive in its implications
  4. The technical standards (i.e., rules, codes, etc.) that facilitate industry and other actors to coordinate and act cost-effectively with high degrees of quality assurance
  5. Adequate quantity and quality of human resources to address the problem and educational systems to supply well-training professionals

There is much work yet to be done to develop the legal and regulatory infrastructure necessary to mitigate GHG emissions. However, as we all are aware, further progress on this front awaits an expanded political consensus.

Significant investment is going into new information technology systems designed to manage GHG emissions in anticipation of future policy and emission markets. Yet, the quality of products available varies widely and poorly understood. By offering substantive third-party testing the Institute has begun working to address this opacity.

Globally the body of standards that will need to be developed to support the range of policies, technologies, and markets is still in its infancy. GHG standards to-date are for the most part overly broad and non-specific. The engineering and scientific communities have yet to heavily engage and support the development of more detailed and rigorous standards along the lines of what we see in other industries. Standards development has been systemically hamstrung by the expense and time existing approaches and processes require. However, when you consider the speed and scale at which standards must be developed to keep pace with the demands of a carbon constrained the question of whether existing processes are up to the task emerges. (We will discuss this issue in greater depth in a future blog post detailing the work the GHG Management Institute is undertaking to revolutionize the development of standards, methodologies, protocols, and codes.)

And clearly, the Institute is strongly focused on training and education: building the GHG measurement and management workforce of the future. This has been a key focus since the Institute was founded, and is visible in range of initiatives from our courses to our developing professional certification program, even our workforce survey.

But, in this blog post, I want to focus on the first of these infrastructure components: scientific knowledge. The Institute is not a research organization, so our role here is not to generate new science. But as a convening organization we network GHG professionals from around the world, providing the for a for the emerging discipline of GHG professionals and researchers to develop the intellectual foundation of the field. One of the key ways we are doing this is with the new peer-reviewed scholarly journal we have launched with Earthscan. The journal’s title is Greenhouse Gas Measurement and Management, and it is unique in its focus on the intellectual infrastructure we will need to go beyond just policy debate and design and move onto the serious work of IMPLEMENTATION.

GHGMM

We encourage you to spread the word about this new important journal and to even consider submitting a paper yourself.

The aims and scope of the journal are as follows:

Greenhouse Gas Measurement & Management (GHGMM) is a scholarly peer-reviewed journal that aims to provide reliable and up-to-date research and information on a broad range of issues relating to greenhouse gases (GHGs) to the growing community of professionals dealing with climate change.

As the old saying goes “you cannot manage what you do not measure.” GHGMM covers the application of science, engineering, and economic principles to improve the way society mitigates the anthropogenic causes of global climate change. This includes developing and providing reliable performance metrics related to GHG emissions and removals and managing activities that reduce GHG emissions to and/or increase their removals from the atmosphere.

GHGMM is relevant to a variety of emission and removal accounting frameworks (i.e., system boundaries), each of which define the metrics that support particular mitigation policies and activities, such as those resulting from international treaties, domestic regulations, industrial efforts, or consumer actions. These GHG accounting frameworks (levels) include:

To mitigate GHGs, it is essential to ensure the availability of reliable data regarding their emissions and removals, which is achieved through the design and application of regulatory and compliance-relevant Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) systems. These systems and rules for GHG emission and removal metrics must take into account the context of policy developments and industry practices. Specifically, the measurement of GHGs includes the following issues:

Managing GHG emissions involves: the use of performance metrics, systems engineering, and economic analyses to identify mitigation activities, as well as planning, organizing, staffing, directing, and controlling the implementation of these activities. Specifically, the management of GHGs includes the following issues:

GHGMM will be open to different types of articles, including:


7 responses to “Who is building our global GHG MRV infrastructure?”

  1. John says:

    Yes, Michael!

    The loneliness. I understand your comment and commend your efforts. I had until recently tried to be involved in the business but the ever-shifting rules and abstract nature of it all left me unable to make any money to even continue.

    I am the ” guy on the ground ” willing to find a way to make this all understandable to the everyday person which will therefore allow buy-in. Without buy-in from the end user it simply cannot achieve relevance.

  2. Fergal Mee says:

    Michael,

    Please do not feel lonely, as our colleagues in ISO and CSA have been working hard since 2002 with colleagues from over 157 countries to create standards and personal certification for GHG professionals (ISO 14064/ 14065/14066/14067).

    Can you send me a link to the GHG Journal please?

  3. Umed Karimov says:

    Dear Michael,
    First of all, I would like to say we are very grateful to you for your activity in the field of GHG inventory. If we are thinking about the future of the global GHG inventory structure, we should act via UNFCCC and IPCC. I think that without the support of the international organizations we can do nothing. There should be some international programs with financial support.
    Umed Karimov, team leader of GHG Inventory of Tajikistan, Institute of Mathematics, Tajik Academy of Sciences

  4. Karen Utt says:

    Michael,

    A resounding YES to your comments about the importance of infrastructure!

    Without adequate infrastructure around all of the elements you have listed, it will be extremely difficult to confirm the existence of actual reductions–the fundamental purpose of any GHG policy effort.

    Unfortunately, we cannot wish a CO2 reduction into existence. We must be able to accurately measure and verify that it actually does exist so the reduction can be appropriately recognized as such by voluntary, legal and regulatory systems.

    While all of this may seem complex, the application to GHG accounting and trading instruments is not unique. There are generally accepted GHG accounting practices and the infrastructure concepts you identify are commonly accepted as necessary when managing other commodities.

    Karen

  5. Fergal,

    You can find the link to the journal in the blog post above or go directly to it here:
    http://www.earthscan.co.uk/journals/GHGMM

    michael

  6. Karen,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments. The only point I would add is recognizing that “accounting” is probably not the optimal word for what this field really does, although we all use the term. It unfortunately implies tasks that are far less related to scientific and engineering expertise than it is in reality. So the the experience from financial accounting is useful and instructive, but not a perfect analog.

    michael

  7. Kjell Kühne says:

    Dear Michael,

    I am working on infrastructure for the long term as well, and I have also been surprised by how little attention this draws, even though everybody seems to be talking about climate change.

    I am trying to identify the elements necessary for building a comprehensive database of GHG impacts of products. And by “comprehensive” I mean everything shall be in there, covering all products and all countries. Where we have good data, it must get into the database and where we don’t have it, proxies must be used. I want to link that database with a smart tool for personal GHG accounting (there are many calculators out there, but none of them allows for a direct link with products – a level of detail that is needed to really start the race down to zero emissions). So this is the infrastructure I am looking at and I would be very thankful if you could share some hints on where to look and who to work with in order to make this a reality.

    Linked to this, I want to start a “climate positive” movement that brings together all those who are dedicated enough to pledge to go beyond carbon neutrality by taking GHGs out of the atmosphere (in sum of remaining emissions plus compensations). At the moment climate activists are left alone with general advice on how to bring their emissions down. But there is no comprehensive information about everything out there on the market that would enable you to actually know how much you are emitting exactly.

    By creating the database and the personal accounting tool I hope to enable the first step towards a “GHG literate” society. Climate positive groups in every city and country can then start buying only those products that are explicit about their climate impact and lobbying business and government to move forward on transparency. I believe that this can become the cultural matrix for the change towards a more robust scientific/standards etc. infrastructure you are working on. And obviously not only activists who have pledged to go climate positive, but the whole public in general would benefit from transparency on climate impacts of products, creating a much more tangible incentive for business that goes beyond CSR (you don’t want to be at the bottom of the climate listing).
    Until neither consumers nor business nor government demand “climate transparency” there will be very limited interest in bringing forward that work. Once it really counts how you calculate your emissions and there is a good number of people who understand the details, this infrastructure will be put in place in a solid way pretty fast, I believe.

    So I hope that this initiative will help to get you from a lonely office to becoming everybody’s darling, because you really are at the forefront of the transformation to a zero-emissions society!

    I would be happy to read your thoughts and if you think you can support this effort somehow, that would be great.

    Kjell

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