Greenhouse gas reporting in the US

The Pew Centre on Global Climate Change has put forward a prospective programme focusing on Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reporting and Disclosure in the United States. The programme would ultimately track at least 75% of the human-induced emissions in the United States.

The policy brief provides guidance regarding the first step in any domestic programme aimed at securing reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, through the formation of a mandatory reporting and disclosure programme of greenhouse gases. The aim is to provide the US with a reliable and credible system for tracking and reporting greenhouse gas emissions.

The programme would provide policy-makers and the public with a sound basis for developing a comprehensive greenhouse gas reduction strategy, and would create incentives for entities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Vicki Arroyo Cochran, Director of Policy Analysis at the Pew Centre told edie, “The Policy Brief just came out last week, and we’re in the process of distributing it in person to Senate staff. Next week, the Pew Centre and some representatives of companies on our Business Environmental Leadership Council will discuss the brief at a lunch briefing for Senate staff. It will also be distributed through our mailing list and website”.

The United States is the Worlds’ largest greenhouse gas emitter, and it is widely agreed that no strategy to address global climate change can succeed without substantial and permanent reduction in US emissions (see related story). According to the brief, efforts to date have failed to curb the overall growth in US greenhouse gas emissions, which have increased by 14.1% since 1990.

It is acknowledged that a mandatory disclosure programme would need to minimise the cost and general burden associated with reporting and maximise transparency and accuracy though several measures, including the establishment of reporting protocols, emissions factors, electronic reporting, and integration with other GHG and environmental reporting programmes.

The Pew Centre has previously produced reports offering advice to businesses on the subject of greenhouse gas assessment. Cochran noted “Businesses and other entities who would like to inventory their emissions could refer to previous Pew Centre reports on emissions inventories and verification. Also, the Centre Participated in a collaboration to develop a greenhouse gas reporting protocol”.

Similar to the federal Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) program, a mandatory greenhouse gas reporting program would apply to all major sources of greenhouse gas emissions and would require disclosure of their reports in a publicly accessible Internet-based database.

A reporting programme such as this would have several advantages, according to the brief. Firstly, it would provide a solid foundation for a US programme to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, it would provide the basis for government assurances that companies would not be penalised for their early reductions under a future climate policy. And thirdly, it could potentially create a powerful incentive for voluntary reductions.

The brief requires reporting of greenhouse gas emissions by the largest emitters, directly from their facilities and vehicle fleets, but also emissions generated elsewhere in association with their purchase of electricity heat and steam. Furthermore, the brief allows and encourages voluntary reporting by smaller emitters, stating that many companies are developing technologies or products, including cars, appliances and computers that though increased energy efficiency could substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It is acknowledged, however, that any mandatory programme is only as effective as efforts to verify its results and enforce compliance. As with TRI reporting, it is suggested that entities should face financial penalties for failure to report or false reporting.

Cochran concluded “At this point, it is premature to say whether the recommendations will be implemented. However we are encouraged that so many legislative efforts on domestic policy approaches are moving forward – including some approaches that were advanced in earlier Pew Centre Policy Briefs”.

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