climate change politics

Why CO2 calculations should be quarterly

There are two snippets of information that close out most British news bulletins: how the FTSE is performing, and how the pound is doing against the dollar and the Euro. It’s not information that most people can really use, but the repetition makes it seem important.

Then there are quarterly GDP figures, which are a much bigger deal. They’re trailed in advance, with speculation about what they will reveal and what it means, and much discussion afterwards.

On climate change, there is considerably less urgency. Greenhouse gas emissions reports are annual, with provisional totals released each spring. The final figures don’t come out until the year after, so the latest 2018 bulletin gives us the numbers for 2016.

Yes, these are complicated calculations, but so is GDP and we manage that. It’s a matter of resourcing it. We know it’s possible to deliver them quarterly because groups such as Carbon Brief calculate their own informal totals from quarterly energy statistics. And Sweden calculates theirs on a quarterly basis – the first country to do so, after five years of nagging by Hans Rosling.

With something as important as climate change, an 18 month lag in official statistics is too long. We need to know what’s working and be more responsive. The more frequent updates might create more news attention. There would be more regular opportunities to celebrate progress or call politicians to account for any lack of it. The repetition would raise the profile of greenhouse gas reports and remind people that they matter. While we’re at it, there’s no reason why newsreaders shouldn’t drop the current energy mix at the end of their bulletins, since it’s available live.

I don’t suggest that this would make a huge difference, but the current situation doesn’t seem to do justice to the seriousness of climate change. Measure what matters, the statisticians say. And greenhouse gas emissions are some of the most important statistics we produce.

Has anyone looked into this? Is anyone aware of any efforts to press the government to do better?


  1. I agree. There must be academics / NGOs able to do the calculations. They need to team up with a big-hitting media organisation to get the profile.

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