Measurement for our planet
Measurement for our planet

As COP26 approaches, discover how NPL plays a key role in enabling climate action through the delivery of accurate, reliable data that supports decision making and enables low carbon innovation.

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Ensuring confidence in global climate decision making

UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions - the role of metrology?

NPL Chief Scientist, JT Janssen

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) on Monday (8 August 2021) outlining, through the use of physical science, the unequivocal impact of human activity on the Earth’s climate. The report represents an important landmark on the path to COP26 and beyond, and in the second of our series of articles, we look at how the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) can support the ambitions of the IPCC in providing increasingly accurate climate data.

The report states that ‘strong, rapid and sustained reductions’ in greenhouse gas emissions will be crucial to limiting the plethora of rapid and widespread impacts caused by human-induced climate and environmental change. We believe that metrology (the science of measurement) holds the key to ensuring our progress.

Complementing the IPCC current emissions inventory, we can now start to provide policy agnostic, “real-time”, observations-based estimates of emissions which are critical to address the more demanding requirements that net zero brings.  Instead of typically taking two years to compile, the observations-based estimates of GHG emissions would provide UK government, industry and citizens with the near real time data that is needed to act with confidence in delivering net zero.

This bolder, more integrated approach to measurement can be implemented and offers a policy agnostic infrastructure that is more suited to a systems approach to net zero. Systems approaches recognise the inherent uncertainty in the outcomes of interwoven policies or innovations. This in turn demands a more responsive and adaptive approach to what is working or not. Robust, stable evidence mechanisms that can outlive any specific policy or innovation, ensure progress on the bigger picture can be tracked, irrespective of specific outcomes, and also ensure the mitigation of new risks.

Importantly, R & D stakeholders can be aligned with suitable funding and reduce the uncertainty on sector specific policies. A “dashboard” that ignites stakeholder motivation for action and provides confidence in progress in the global challenge of addressing climate change.

The real time data would form a key tool to measure progress on the path to net zero emissions and upon creation and implementation would offer a live emissions dashboard. By providing this dashboard of monthly emissions data in near real-time on the emissions of reported greenhouse gases (Carbon dioxide, Methane, Nitrous Oxide, Fluorinated gases) at national and devolved authority level with assessments of confidence, including multi-model approaches, would cement the UK’s leadership in addressing emissions reductions, creating exportable know-how and a vision for net zero action that can be introduced at COP26.

An integrated system would need to measure all aspects across the UK to give independent evidence of changes to the emission sources and sinks in all sectors. As metrology is the structure that ensures measurements are stable, comparable and accurate, providing confidence in measurement at a stated level (usually by quoting a measurement uncertainty), NPL as the UK’s National Metrology Institute is a key partner in the delivery of such measurement infrastructure and ensure its successful deployment.

NPL aims to collaborate with the climate science and measurement community in the run up to COP26 to further investigate commission of the proposed Dashboard and support of the IPCC ambitions in providing increasingly accurate climate data. To be involved in the discussion, do get in touch with our COP26 team.

To coincide with the UK hosting of COP26 this year, NPL has also launched the Measurement for our planet programme, which will showcase NPL’s energy and environment-related research and associated capabilities whilst highlighting the important role of metrology in supporting climate change mitigation, adaptation and decision making.

Measurement for our planet will provide further details on NPL’s expertise in providing confidence in the data that underpins science-led solutions for improvements to climate science, greenhouse gas emissions measurement and in supporting the innovation that will enable a transition to a decarbonised economy. To find out more, visit Measurement for our Planet.

03 Sep 2021