Image: Workers examining part for the first geothermal power station in Kenya. Image: IRENA, Creative Commons via Climate Visuals Countdown
Chapter Guide Resource
Various international agencies and NGOs make available emissions data that is not from national official sources. Some also make projections.
Here are some places to look for alternative emissions figures:
- The International Energy Agency: The IEA provides country-by-country emissions from energy data based on a variety of sources. For sources, see its methodology section. The IEA also assesses the “pathways” necessary to meet the NDC targets. The IEA database (latest update 2022) includes emissions from energy estimates up to 2020 for all countries and up to 2021 for a selection of countries, based on provisional data. Complete data up to 2021 for both energy and emissions data will be available in summer 2023.
- Climate Watch: Climate Watch uses four different historical emissions data sources to produce detailed country reports. Historical GHG Emissions provides detailed country data. Climate Watch is supported by a number of organizations and managed on a daily basis by the World Resources Institute.
- EDGAR: The Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) is an EU project. See the 2022 report on CO2 emissions of all world countries. EDGARv7.0 covers the three main greenhouse gasses (CO2, CH₄, and N₂O) and fluorinated gasses, broken down by sector and country. Projections are made covering several years beyond the submitted emissions data.
- Global Carbon Project (GCP): GCP creates global “budgets” for the three dominant greenhouse gases — CO2, CH₄, and N₂O — based on scientific modeling. World and national data is available. GCP is associated with Future Earth and the World Climate Research Programme.
- Global Energy Monitor: GEM tracks many facets of the energy sector, such as the world’s coal power capacity.
The UNFCCC lists other data sources in a compendium called Links to external sources of data on greenhouse gas emissions and to socio-economic data and tools of other sources. It’s advisable to look closely at the data sources, however, as many of them use UNFCCC data with different presentations. For example, UNdata by the UN secretariat posts the UNFCCC’s data with a dropdown menu of GHG 10 categories.
For African reporters, see a spreadsheet of resources from Africa Data Hub.
Also, keep an eye out for new academic research. Scientists are constantly analyzing official emissions data and adding new material. See, for example, academic journals like Nature Climate Change and Climate Change. Sometimes they make their data available. For example, here’s a major study from 2021: A Comprehensive and Synthetic Dataset for Global, Regional, and National Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Sector 1970–2018 with an Extension to 2019.
Climate TRACE is an NGO that, rather than provide total emissions data for individual countries, instead focuses on the highest-emitting facilities around the world, relying on satellites and other “direct observations.”
Missing or Incomplete Country Data
Since country reports to the UN are annual or biennial, a logical question is whether country data on emissions is available in the interim. Unfortunately, very little national emissions data is available in many countries. But this lack of data, or the nondisclosure of data, may itself be a story.
Developing countries face special challenges. The demands of doing emissions reporting sometimes exceed what they can afford. Furthermore, it’s crucial for them to calculate the costs of climate change, and what it will take to mitigate the effects and adapt. No UNFCCC methodology is prescribed for this task. The “loss and damage” calculations will critically affect country efforts to obtain financial support from the countries most responsible for climate change.
More on the work being done in developing countries below.
Challenges from Lack of Data
The lack of national emissions data in many countries isn’t a secret and has been lamented as an impediment to public knowledge.
Journalists are often frustrated by the gap, as recounted in a July 2022 article about “four takeaways” gathered from fellows in the Oxford Climate Journalism Network. “Journalists are struggling, often for months, to get basic climate data from their governments,” noted the article’s authors Katherine Dunn and Diego Arguedas Ortiz. “Sometimes the data is politically skewed or unreliable, and sometimes it simply doesn’t exist — a product of the gaps in research funding between the Global North and South.”
Similarly, a July 2022 report commissioned by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), a UK government-funded research group, concluded: “Important environmental data is rarely integrated into a unified platform by governments and the web interface for such information is often outdated or not usable for the public.”
The WFD report stressed: “These barriers make it difficult for the public, civil society and policymakers to have an accurate idea about the current state of the environment and act upon damages.” It’s little solace that the right of public access to environmental information is enshrined in a variety of international, regional, and national agreements. They may or may not have much force. (For more on these agreements, see this report by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy.)
And it’s not just a lack of organization or access that can act as a barrier to transparency. In 2021, a Washington Post reporting team of Chris Mooney, Juliet Eilperin, Desmond Butler, John Muyskens, Anu Narayanswamy, and Naema Ahmed found that “many countries underreport their greenhouse gas emissions in their reports to the United Nations.”
Finding National Emissions Databases
Finding national emissions data may take some digging. Emissions data is usually collected and maintained by the national environmental agency, but other departments or ministries may be involved.
“There often is a lack of focus as to who or what organization within a country is responsible for the development, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of emissions policies,” commented Ron Israel, a co-founder of Climate Scorecard who is now executive director of The Global Citizens’ Initiative.
Some countries have passed statutory reporting requirements. For example, the United Kingdom’s Climate Change Act (2008) requires government reports to be published every five years on climate change and how its impact is being addressed.
One place to start in your own country is with the reports sent to the UNFCCC. These often identify the source of relevant national records. (You can look up many individual nations on the UNFCCC list of National Inventory Reports, submitted by developed countries.) The Biennial Update Reports (BURs) submitted by developing countries also may contain clues as to which national agency houses local emissions data.
The Global Data Barometer collaborative project, an international NGO partially funded by the Canadian government, assesses the existence and availability of data on emissions and biodiversity in 109 countries. “[M]ost countries publish mandated emissions data, but there are still significant omissions,” according to its 2022 report. Check out its detailed information about individual countries (via download), which often includes links to government websites. The Barometer sometimes provides pithy, pull-no-punches assessments. For example: “The Angolan Ministry of Environment’s website (mcta.gov.ao) is dysfunctional.” For background see the GDB climate action module and the handbook for the researchers who compile the information.
If doing stories on cutting emissions in particular areas, also look for relevant data besides emissions data. For example, figures on the production of electric vehicles.
Public National Databases
Some countries do maintain public databases about their greenhouse gas emissions. While no comprehensive list exists, GIJN has identified a few countries with online emissions data.
United States: The Environmental Protection Agency prepares an annual inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks (2020 version). It provides “a comprehensive accounting of total greenhouse gas emissions for all man-made sources in the United States, including carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere by ‘sinks,’ (e.g., through the uptake of carbon and storage in forests, vegetation, and soils) from management of lands in their current use or as lands are converted to other uses. The gases covered include carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, sulfur hexafluoride, and nitrogen trifluoride.”
European Union: The EU provides an annual overview of energy-related statistics in the EU and in individual EU countries. It includes data on production, consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, imports, and brief socio-economic statistics. See the 2022 report. Its biennial energy statistical country datasheets cover all EU member states and present in a comparative format long-term time-series of the energy balances, electricity and heat generation, main energy indicators, cogeneration, transport fuels, and greenhouse gasses emissions. Deutsche Welle (DW), the German public broadcaster, has created a graphic-filled page to track the European Union’s progress in meeting its goals that is backed up by a data repository created with partners.
Australia: Quarterly updates of Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory provide a summary of national emissions.
Belarus: Data from the National Statistical Committee.
Indonesia: The Sign Smart Portal provides emissions information from 2000-2022.
Kazakhstan: Data from the Bureau of National Statistics.
Kyrgyzstan: Data from the National Statistical Committee.
Netherlands: A dashboard shows progress on meeting domestic climate targets. The data is disaggregated by sector.
South Africa: The National Climate Change Response Database “is intended as a resource to collect and track interventions on climate change (adaptation and mitigation) on past, current and future climate change response efforts (policies, plans, strategies, projects and research) across South Africa.”
Turkey: The Turkish Statistical Institute disseminates emissions data.
Uzbekistan: See the Ecology Section by the State Committee of the Republic of Uzbekistan on Statistics.
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National Loss and Damage Data
Creating good data on the cost of climate change is a significant challenge particularly burdening developing countries.
Many developing countries lack the funding and expertise necessary to gather good quality data, not only on emissions, but also on the potential “loss and damage” from climate change. Even the lack of enough weather stations is relevant, as pointed out in this 2022 Climate Home News article.
Local reporting is probably the best avenue for finding and evaluating how the data-gathering efforts are going. What gaps are seen by local experts such as academics and environmental activists?
Looking at national reports themselves and at the critiques done of them is a good place to start. Help also may be found by examining international initiatives specifically undertaken to assist governments in building the necessary capacity.
CBIT Documents May Hint at Stories
The Capacity-Building Initiative for Transparency (CBIT) is an initiative to help developing countries upon request. The trust fund for CBIT is administered by the multilateral fund Global Environment Facility (GEF).
The GEF “Projects” page allows searching by country and can provide a snapshot in time at ongoing efforts. In late 2022, for example, projects were underway in 45 countries. A key document to look for is the Project Information Form.
This and other documents may provide story ideas.
For example, a US$1.2 million project approved in 2019 for Burkino Faso was to be completed in 2022. But a note in one document says the completion date was extended to Sept. 30, 2023, “to factor in the Ministry’s delays in recruiting the Chief Technical Advisor and kicking off the project.”
In documentation for a Bangladesh project, it notes the Bangladesh NDC did not set an emission reduction target for the agriculture, forestry, and land use sectors (AFOLU) “because of data unavailability.” While specific mitigation actions are mentioned for the AFOLU and waste sectors, the document says that to execute the actions, “enhanced monitoring and planning system is crucial.”
Gaps in national data in Liberia are identified in documents about one project there. One bit from the relevant report: “For instance, GHG data from non-state actors especially the private sector is not readily available (unreported) and where it is available (reported), the data is not standardized and lacks some key GHG indices, thus, not aligned with IPCC methodologies.”
The choices about what to measure are debatable, as discussed in this analysis by Max van Deursen of Transgov.
ICAT Supports Country Studies, Use of Technology
Helping to remedy the gaps in monitoring, reporting, and verification (MRV) is a primary goal of the Initiative for Climate Action Transparency (ICAT), a multi-stakeholder partnership with a variety of donors, including the UN.
ICAT has developed a “toolbox” for governments to use. The tools are open source, but complicated. ICAT holds technical workshops for officials on how to use them. For example, the GHG Abatement Cost Model (GACMO) “can be used to support countries or regions in analyzing their GHG mitigation options to prepare information for their NDCs, National Communications, or Low-Carbon Development Plans.” GACMO was developed and is maintained by the UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre. While this may seem very procedural and dry, it is important, because country reports from ICAT may detail gaps in collection of data. Some examples:
- A 2021 report prepared by China: Recommendations on Data Collection Mechanism for National GHG Inventory.
- A Roadmap for Data Collection in the Agriculture Sector of the Kingdom of Eswatini (formerly Swaziland), a 2022 report.
- Vietnam was the subject of an August 2022 ICAT press release about its work with other partners to develop Vietnam’s greenhouse gas monitoring, reporting, and verification system and to assess its national climate policies, particularly in the energy and agricultural sectors. ICAT linked to the resulting reports.
ICAT’s website shows the 52 countries where it is working and also describes regional hubs in Central Asia and Central Africa. Going to “Discover More” will yield links to reports that have been done and provide an ICAT contact.
Another possible lead could be whether your country has asked for help from the UN Development Programme. UNDP has a climate change site that includes a page on transparency. Countries are invited to request support on transparency using the Transparency Helpdesk.
While stories about data may seem dry, they have the potential to improve critical information needed for accountability reporting about policy decisions. As Lasse Hemmingsen, communications officer with the UNEP Copenhagen Climate Centre, noted, “If you don’t have the data, or the data isn’t reliable, you don’t know what works.”
Toby McIntosh is a senior advisor for GIJN’s Resource Center, which provides online resources to journalists worldwide. He was the editor of FreedomInfo.org, (2010-2017) a nonprofit website based in Washington, D.C. that covers international transparency laws. He was with Bloomberg BNA for 39 years and has filed numerous US Freedom of Information requests and has written about FOI policies worldwide. He is a steering committee member of FOIANet, a network of FOI advocates.