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Monitoring Carbon Emissions

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Introduction

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The protocol placed more responsibility for the emission of GHG on the developed nations of the world, except the United States which did not ratify the treaty, and gave these countries the task of reducing their GHG emissions the most. The targets agreed upon in the Kyoto Protocol are to be achieved at a national level, but the protocol did allow additional means of meeting the targets, including emissions trading, clean development mechanism, and joint implementation. However, the protocol also requires that actual emissions have to be monitored and precise records of the emission trades are necessary.

Monitoring of Emissions

All signees of the Kyoto Protocol have to report their GHG emissions each year and this requires effective monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV). Countries have their own monitoring and reporting of GHG, but in the European Union there are regulations on how countries can monitor GBG emissions. For countries reporting at a national level it requires that a company or facility keep records on the level of GHG that are emitted. Sometimes the measurement is not an actual figure, but a calculated figure based on the facility and the activities taking place. The formula for the calculation should be audited by a third party to verify its validity. The actual or calculated emissions figure is then sent to a national regulator who would compile a report for the emissions at the national level.

The Source of Emissions

Studies in the European Union have found that the Energy Industries cause about twenty seven percent of all GHG emissions in the EU, followed by the Transportation Sector at around twenty percent, Manufacturing sector causes fourteen percent, Agriculture causes about five percent, Mineral production at around three percent, and landfills cause another two percent. The remaining GHG emission is caused by a variety of industries across Europe.

Although the main cause of GHG emissions was found to be the energy sector, studies have found that as energy consumption grows the GHG emission will not, and stay around current levels. This is not true for transportation. Reports indicate that the use of transportation will continue to increase and so will the GHG emissions that it generates, albeit at a slower rate.

Calculating Emissions

There are number of methods that companies can use to calculate their GHG emissions. There is no method that has a zero percentage of error. Firstly emissions can be estimated by multiplying the quantity of the fossil fuel used by an emission factor that reflects the typical carbon content of that fuel. Emissions from industrial processes, such as manufacturing steel, can be estimated by measuring the inputs into those processes, and multiplying them by factors that take into account the chemistry of these processes.

Secondly there are other methods that involve more precisely and directly measuring greenhouse gas emissions that are produced. Sampling and analysis approaches to emissions estimation have been used for many years in the energy sector. Direct monitoring is not used in many industries but is used in industries such as coal mining, where state legislation requires the monitoring of methane levels for health and safety.

Some companies use detailed calculations to theoretically calculate GHG emissions and these are often provided by companies that specialize in the monitoring of carbon emissions.

Emissions Trading

Emissions trading allows countries that have emission units to spare, which are emissions permitted them but not needed, to sell this excess capacity to countries that are over their target. So if Malaysia is one hundred emissions units under their target, they can sell those to any country who has missed their target in order to bring their total within the range set by the protocol. There is now a market that tracks the trading of carbon units, called the "carbon market". In terms of dollars, the Barclays Bank has estimated that the size of the carbon market was 70 billion in 2008.

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