28 September 2010

Exchange Between CO2scorecard.org and IEA

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Early this month I mentioned a report by the group CO2scorecard.org on apparent discrepancies in emissions reporting across different national and international agencies. CO2scorecard.org argued that "the empirical discrepancies in the current annual CO2 emissions estimates far exceed the annual reduction targets generally proposed by policy instruments like the cap‐and‐trade program or national commitments."  That blog posting was followed by a behind-the-scenes discussion on CO2 data reporting between CO2scorecard.org and the IEA. With the permission of IEA, Shakeb Afsah of CO2scoirecard.org has asked if I'd post their exchange as a guest post.  I am happy to facilitate an open exchange on this subject.  The guest post follows.  -RP]

Guest Post from CO2scorecard.org

First, I want to thank Roger and his blog visitors for their comments on our research note that discusses the issue of discrepancies in CO2 emissions numbers reported by various organizations worldwide. Our main goal was to highlight that differences in measurements and methodologies behind various CO2 numbers make it difficult to verify how well countries meet their annual reduction commitments (which are typically between 1-1.5% on an average annual basis). Various comments and ideas on this blog suggest a preference for using a policy indicator like the share of energy from carbon free sources that have fewer data quality concerns as opposed to estimating annual CO2 emissions. In our future research notes we plan to delve into such metrics in more detail.

We also want to share our email exchange with Ms. Karen Treanton of the International Energy Agency (IEA) because some of the concerns raised by the IEA gets to the heart of the methodological and data issues that we sought to amplify in our note. We would like to thank Roger for providing us this forum , and we look forward to your comments and hope that IEA would also participate if readers have questions.

Email from IEA:
Dear Mr. Afsah,

In principle I am not against your using our estimates of CO2 emissions from fuel combustion, but you really should use them correctly.  The conclusions you draw on your website are misleading to say the least.  We are completely transparent as to what we are including and how it is estimated.  For example, we do not include fugitive CO2 emissions (IPCC source category 1B).  Category 1B is included in the PBL and UNFCCC numbers – I do not know whether it is in the BP numbers. However, that would in part explain the lower numbers for the IEA.  By ignoring the methodological differences you are creating confusion and throwing doubt on numbers that are actually more robust than you make them sound by saying:

Experts assert, rightly, that perfectly consistent estimates of CO2 emissions are unattainable, but the current system is too flawed to be credible. Not only does it enable countries to fudge their actual emissions reductions, it has already resulted in some nasty political disputes. China recently challenged the energy use estimates of the IEA, calling it “not very credible.” If energy use data are challenged, it automatically raises concerns about national CO2 estimates.

You refer to the problems that the Chinese had with IEA numbers.  In fact, the IEA stands by its numbers.  The Chinese were comparing energy balances for the US calculated by the Energy Information Adminstration in the US DOE (on a GCV basis) with the energy balances for China calculated by the Chinese government (on a NCV basis).  That alone will make a large difference in the numbers but does not in any way cast doubt on the robustness of the numbers.  In addition, the 2 balances were calculated using different assumptions for the primary energy equivalent for energy that is not combusted (i.e. hydro, solar, etc.) and China was not including non-commercial biomass.  Having said that, none of these 3 differences would make a difference to the CO2 numbers that result from them if they are estimated correctly.

Instead of helping the cause for reducing CO2 emissions, lack of transparency and proper notes might lead to the reverse effect, creating more trouble and giving more arguments to people who criticise the validity of facts and figures. This is why we would appreciate some revisions to your website.

Before making a decision on providing you with additional information, I await your comments to my email.


Karen Treanton
Head of Energy Balances, Prices and Emissions Section
Energy Statistics Division
International Energy Agency

CO2Scorecard.org’s Response:

Dear Ms. Treanton,

Thank you for your email and for sharing your concerns about the CO2 numbers we presented in our data discrepancies research note. We value feedback and constructive criticisms from experts like you, and accordingly we have taken a look at the adjustments to UNFCC’s CO2 numbers for IPCC Categories IB1 and IB2 for fugitive emissions. Our analysis shows that even after adjusting for fugitive emissions, which is around 0.4% for the US (EDGAR 4.1/2005 estimate), there is a difference of more than 100 million tons between IEA and UNFCCC numbers for the year 2006. Therefore our central conclusion about CO2 discrepancies remains unchanged. If we price CO2 at around $10 per ton, this discrepancy would be worth more than a $ 1 billion. In our view it is a sizeable amount that deserves some policy attention.

Regarding your comment about our reference to the reaction from China about the IEA energy use estimates, our main goal is to simply highlight that the differences in the CO2 and energy use numbers from data reporters are a potential source of dispute. We are simply citing what was reported in the Financial Times.

Further, we respectfully disagree with your statement that we are not helping the cause of CO2 emissions reduction. On the contrary, a healthy debate on data quality issues for CO2 numbers is precisely what is needed to ensure that as we move forward with various policy options, we also build a good capacity to monitor and verify CO2 reductions. We believe that there is a genuine issue of discrepancies and inconsistencies across CO2 and energy use data reporters—each organization may be right in the choice of their methodologies but there is a need for further harmonization and increased transparency. We would also urge IEA to release its estimates of CO2 emissions for the years 2008 and 2009 which are currently available only on a commercial basis.

Despite our differences of opinion on this issue, we look forward to continuing a dialogue with you and your colleagues at the IEA regarding current methodologies for measurement of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions around the world. We also hope to engage other leading reporting authorities in a similar dialogue. We would also strongly encourage a common conversation among reporting authorities for national-level energy and emissions data regarding potential avenues for harmonization of standards to aid in the comparability of estimates from different data reporting sources.

Thank you very much and please don't hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding this response.


Shakeb Afsah and Michael Aller
The CO2 Scorecard Group
Bethesda, MD