Based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, the UNFCCC has different requirements on national GHG inventories submitted by Annex I and non-Annex I parties. Since 2007, the transparency of mitigation actions by developing countries, the submission frequency of national communications cored on national inventory and the relevant international consultation and analysis have become the key issues in climate negotiations. Relevant responsibilities of developing countries showed an increasing trend. Through the analysis of these different requirements, particularly on technical review system of national inventories on developed countries and of the current situation of China’s inventory development, the challenges faced by China are identified and the corresponding countermeasures are also put forward, including improving institutional arrangements and statistic system, building country-specific and comprehensive database and preparing for time-series inventory development.


climate negotiation ; greenhouse gas ; national emissions inventory ; transparency

1. Introduction

The national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventories (hereinafter referred to as national inventories) are the most important channel to understand the emissions profile and tendency of different countries. Domestically, China has pinpointed the specific targets of GHG control in the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan (2011–2015), and the development of the national inventories which can reflect China’s actual situation by using transparent methods and data is the only way to allow a self-inspection on those targets. Internationally, China has proposed the independent mitigation target for 2020 to the international community in 2009. The development of an internationally comparable national inventories is the basis for reporting the implementation of the target to the international community and for accepting the international review to some degree.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) requires all the parties to submit national inventories about anthropogenic emissions of GHG sources and sink removal, and provide relevant information on implementing the UNFCCC (generally called national communication). Based on the common but differentiated responsibilities , Annex I parties must submit annual inventories and reports on GHG emissions to the UNFCCC Secretariat each year, and accept the deep review by the UNFCCC Secretariat and the expert review group. As for non-Annex I parties, national inventories should be submitted as part of the national communication, and there is no need to submit independent inventories and reports. The submission frequency depends on the support of international funds and it is no need to accept international review. At present, all Annex I parties have submitted annual GHG inventories covering 1990–2010 to the UNFCCC Secretariat. By May 2012, among all the 153 nonAnnex I parties, 142 parties have completed and submitted the initial national communication, 73 parties for the second communication, Mexico, Uruguay and South Korea for the third, and Mexico for the fourth [ UNFCCC, 2012 ].

In 2007, on the 13th conference of the parties to the UNFCCC (COP13), developing countries were required to take measurable, reportable and verifiable (MRV) and nationally appropriate mitigation actions (NAMAs) so as to alleviate GHG emissions. The issues including MRV, the submission frequency of national communication cored on national inventories in developing countries, and the international consultation and analysis have raised high concerns about climate negotiations. Relevant responsibilities of developing countries showed an increasing trend.

Through the analysis of these different requirements, particularly on the review system for national inventories accepted by developed countries, and of the current situation of China’s inventory compilation, the challenges faced by China are identified and the corresponding countermeasures are put forward.

2. UNFCCC requirements on national inventories and the progress of negotiations in recent years

2.1. UNFCCC requirements on national inventories for Annex I and non-Annex I parties

Table 1 shows the comparison of UNFCCC’s requirements on national inventories for Annex I and non-Annex I parties. The UNFCCC requires that Annex I parties submit national communications every 3–5 years and national inventories each year so as to form series of national inventories on the base year of 1990. Besides detailed inventory reports that are independent from national communications, Annex I parties must also fill in the standard forms of inventory data that comprise of totally 74 spreadsheets in 10 groups. The calculation of GHG must cover all the six kinds of gases listed in the Kyoto Protocol. The national inventories must be strictly reviewed internationally. In addition, national communications must contain an independent chapter that describes future emissions trends. For non-Annex I parties, the UNFCCC requires parties to submit the initial national communication within 3 years from the date when the convention comes into effect or when the party gains financial support. Least developed countries (LDCs) can independently decide the time to submit the initial national communication. The submission of follow-up national communications will depend on the decision made by the UNFCCC and the situation of financial support.

Table 1. Comparison of UNFCCC’s requirements for national GHG inventories between Annex I and non-Annex I parties
Comparative index Annex I parties Non-Annex I parties
Methodology Revised 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories + Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories. Although the UNFCCC did not officially approve the 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhonse Gas Inventories yet, many Annex I parties have used the guideline Revised 1996 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories + Good Practice Guidance and Uncertainty Management in National Greenhouse Gas Inventories
Completeness Including all GHGs listed in the Kyoto Protocol, namely CO2 , CH4 , N2 O, HFCs, PFC, SF6 Must calculate CO2 , CH4 , N2 O and encourage the estimations of F-gases
Consistency Time-series of annual emissions inventories on base year of 1990 Two time points, namely 1994 and 2000 (2005)
Report format Completed national inventory reports and data tables with common reporting format Simple summary
International review Strict annual international expert review No review requirement

Note: The UNFCCC requires the inventory year of the second national communication for developing countries to be 2000, and 2005 for others

During the compilation of the inventory, nonAnnex I parties do not have to apply the latest methodological guidelines of the IPCC, or submit emissions data in complete time series, or report emissions of fluoride-containing gas. They are required to report the emissions of subsectors only and are not required to fill in standard forms, or to submit independent inventory reports. The national inventories submitted by non-Annex I parties do not need to undergo an international review and the national communications do not need to make special descriptions of the future emissions trends.

2.2. The progress of negotiations in recent years

In recent years, responsibilities of developing countries on the submission of national inventories have increased. The Bali Action Plan (BAP) [ UNFCCC, 2007 ] approved at COP13 of the UNFCCC in 2007 demands developing countries to take NAMAs and MRV for mitigating GHG emissions. Before the 15th conference of UNFCCC parties (COP15), developing countries proposed many voluntary mitigation targets and actions. The transparency of those targets and actions has become the new hot spot in the international climate negotiations. The Cancun Agreement [ UNFCCC, 2010 ] of 2010 demands that non-Annex I parties should submit national communication every 4 years, to update reports about mitigation actions every 2 years, and to take international consultation and analysis (ICA) on the domestically independent mitigation actions of non-Annex I parties. On the 17th conference of UNFCCC parties (COP17) in 2011, during the negotiation on the guidelines for the biennial reports, developed countries put forward the proposal of a common report format  in order to revise relevant guidelines about national communications and to reinterpret the reporting obligation of developing countries; developing countries insisted that national communications should not surpass the current guidelines, adhered to the principle that the reporting requirements should link up with the financial support, and partially accepted the requirements on further elaboration of the contents of the reports.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) and Subsidiary of Implementation (SBI) of the UNFCCC were authorized to guide further discussions on the details, and the Ad Hoc Working Group of the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) [ UNFCCC, 2011 ] was initiated in order to reach a protocol , other legal instruments  or an agreed outcome with legal force  applicable to all parties after 2020. The negotiations started in 2012 and will be concluded at the end of 2015, entering into force in 2020. To some extent, the ADP hints that developing countries, especially major developing countries, will bear legally binding responsibilities on emissions reduction under the UNFCCC, together with developed countries. As one of the verification approaches, requirements on the national inventories development for developing countries will gradually be tightened and developing countries will probably have to accept the similar international review on their inventories.

3. Review system for national inventories of Annex I parties

3.1. Overview of the review system

The UNFCCC requires Annex I parties to submit annual national inventories to the UNFCCC Secretariat from the base year (generally 1990 but also 1994 for some parties) to the latest year (two years before the current year, for example, the national inventories during 1990–2009 should be submitted in 2011), and accept a review by the technical expert group which is composed based on the decisions passed by the UNFCCC conference. The purpose of the technical review is to ensure that the GHG emissions data submitted by the parties to the UNFCCC satisfies the requirements in 5 perspectives, namely: transparency, completeness, consistency, comparability and accuracy [ Lim et al., 1999 ], and to guarantee that the emissions from Kyoto Protocol developed parties who have qualified emissions reduction and limitation targets will not be underestimated.

The review is divided into three steps. The first step is a preliminary examination in which the UNFCCC Secretariat is in charge of the rapid examination of the information completeness and the report status submitted by parties. As the second step, preparing a synthesis and assessment report, refers that the UNFCCC Secretariat undertakes the comparative analysis on the inventory information submitted by the parties. The last step is that the technical expert group will make a detailed technical review of the information submitted by Annex I parties, complete the review report and then make an announcement. The technical review is the core of the entire review, and the first two steps provide the basic information for the expert review. In accordance with the UNFCCC, there are three approaches for the technical review, namely: desk review, centralized expert review, and in-country review, where the centralized expert review is the most common method, the in-country review will be accepted every 4–5 years by each party, and the desk review is rarely adopted. In the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, each Annex I parties must accept at least one in-country review.

Since 2010 the review year entered the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, developed parties submit supplementary information on its implementation of the Kyoto Protocol together with annual national inventories. Then the submission will be verified by the UNFCCC Secretariat and submitted to the Protocol Compliance Committee. If the parties’ inventory, national system or the national registry does not meet the requirements, the Compliance Committee will suspend its qualification for participating in the Kyoto Mechanism. After the commitment period, the Compliance Committee will confirm the compliance conditions of all parties. If the compliance of the party is confirmed as failed, the emissions rights of 130% of the exceeding emissions for the previous commitment period will be deducted from the allotted emissions for the next commitment period.

3.2. Key contents of the expert review

Decision No. 22 of the 1st conference of the Kyoto Protocol parties (CMP1) arranges very explicit regulations on the specific range, time, contents and process of the expert review. Through the experienced expert review, the following review contents are considered significant.

The first one is whether the advice of the review in previous inventories is adopted. Because the review is made every year, experts will propose advice and suggestions on the inventories compilation for the parties. Hence, the review for next year will be checked whether the advice of the previous year is adopted in the implementation plan.

Comparison across the parties on their inventories is the second content. It is mainly the mutual verification among those parties on the estimation results of inventories and the comparison between those results and default parameters of the IPCC. For example, in the energy inventory, the main content for comparison is the implied emissions factor of key emissions sources in which the unit is t CO2 (TJ)−1 , t CH4 (TJ)−1  and t N2 O (TJ)−1 . The expert group will especially make a comparison on the comprehensive emissions factors of solid fuel, liquid fuel and gas fuel in power production sectors from all parties that are considered as the key emissions source. The energy activities and fugitive emissions of CH4  in large energy-producing countries such as Australia and Canada are also the primary focus. Besides, the experts also focuses on N2 O emissions caused by road traffic.

The third content is the comparison of inventories and mainly refers to the comparison of historical variations of emissions volumes, activity level and emissions factors in the time series inventories of the reviewed parties. Once large fluctuations are identified in the three historical data, the experts will propose questions if the parties do not make explanations or provide sufficient explanation.

The fourth is the comparison between data of activity levels in the inventories and other data sources. Although there is no explicit requirement in the review guidelines, the reviewed parties are generally demanded to submit energy balance tables when submitting the inventory. The review experts also obtain relevant information of the reviewed parties from various open channels in advance. Through comparing data from multiple channels, the experts will propose questions once big differences occur. For example, the review experts will make comparisons between the data of activity levels in the parties’ report and the data from energy production/consumption of reviewed parties, domestic fuel consumption of aviation and navigation, as well as bunker fuel provided by the International Energy Agency (IEA). During the review, data from different channels are usually inconsistent.

In addition, the communication between the expert group and the parties that are being reviewed is very important in the centralized review period. In the week of the review period, the review experts will raise questions at any time to ask further explanation from the reviewed parties. Specially assigned persons are appointed by relevant institutes from the reviewed parties and are responsible for answering questions in time, providing necessary information and supporting comprehensive cooperation. In the centralized review period, if the questions raised by the experts (especially the question on underestimated emissions) are not clearly or sufficient explained, the expert group will initiate a report named potential problems and more questions on the last day (usually on Saturday) to point out the problems and explicitly put forward guidance from the experts on how to correct the calculation of emissions. The reviewed parties are required to complete the recalculation and re-submit the inventory within six weeks.

Hence, the GHG emissions reporting and verification system under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol for Annex I parties, especially for those who bear the quantified emissions limitation and reduction targets, is of high stringency. In spite of the weakness of the compliance mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol and insufficiency of punitive measures on those parties who break the Kyoto Protocol, a series of mature and strict international systems has formed in the view of GHG emissions reporting and verification. This is one of the most precious treasures to tackle climate change through all countries’ cooperation since the UNFCCC was created 20 years ago.

4. Current situation and challenges of China’s national inventories development

4.1. Current situation

The Chinese Government pays high attention to bear international responsibilities and actively fulfill the commitments. The initial and second national communication with inventory year of 1994 and 2005 were submitted to UNFCCC in 2004 and 2012, respectively.

Through the practice of developing national inventories twice already, the institutional capacity for China’s inventories development has been strengthened. The national system organized by the Climate Change Division of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) has been initially formed with support of national research institutions and universities, in close cooperation with relevant organizations, especially the National Statistic Bureau, industry experts and external review experts. An inventory development team and a pool of inventory experts have been formed and some of them have become international inventory-review experts. Thereafter, the inventories development at provincial level and enterprise level has been launched gradually, providing the technical basis for decomposition and internal verification on the target of CO2  intensity during the 12th Five-Year Plan.

In accordance with the UNFCCC, the submission frequency of China’s national communication and national inventories depends on the frequency of the international financial support. It is a long and complex course for applying for grants from Global Environment Facility (GEF). It took nearly 5 years from the initiation of the application to the full disbursement for the initial national communication and then it cost 3 years for the inventories development and submission. Therefore, China submitted the outdated  inventories of 1994 in 2004. On the basis of the initial national communication, it still costs 5 years from the initiation of fund application to the completion and submission in November 2012 for the second national communication although the period has been shortened.

4.2. Challenges

Firstly, as a developing country, the submission frequency of China’s national inventories depends on the frequency of international financial support. The fund application is complex for China, so it is hard to ensure the biennial compilation frequency and submission of national inventories in every four years.

Secondly, the arrangement for institutional framework of the inventories development is still imperfect. It is still incomprehensive, unsystematic and not network-shaped. Hence, the standardization of the inventory compilation has not yet been realized. For example, a standing body that specializes in the management of inventory compilation has not been formed. Besides the institutes that directly undertake the inventory development, relevant institutions and experts participate in the compilation in an unofficial and passive way. There is lack of coordination and data sharing among institutions. The direct manifestation form is that China’s inventories compilation is still in the phase of collection from elsewhere which is a waste of time and labor, and the steady and fluent data inflow mechanism has not been formed yet [ Zhu, 2011 ].

Thirdly, the imperfectness of the relevant statistical system has brought challenges for the confirmation of activity level and emissions factors. At present, the statistical account system for environmental monitoring, the system of statistics and management on energy data, and the data system required by the inventories are not entirely consistent, and some index have still not been incorporated into the statistical system. There are also concerns on data reprocessing, typical survey limited by time, range and estimation of experts. All those will cause considerable uncertainty for the inventories development. For example, China’s energy structure is mainly based on coal. However, the classification method and statistics of raw coal have differences with the IPCC guidelines. Statistics of calorific values of coal are not comprehensive, the basis is not solid and the carbon content is not adopted into the statistical system. Another example is that the test frequency of CH4 fugitive emissions from coal mining activities is very low, which leads to big uncertainty for the data of emissions factors. Those have brought difficulties to the development of energy inventories.

Fourthly, with a vast territory, natural conditions and socio-economic development levels in China are different, and the emissions factors in departments relating to agriculture, land use, forestry as well as waste treatment are also diversified. Test cost is very high, and the observing time scale, observation points and sampling points is lacking representativeness.

5. General advice on China’s national inventories development

Internationally, the ADP negotiation will focus on the international emissions mitigation mechanism after 2020. As the largest emissions source, China is bearing more and more pressure at the target/action aspects on emissions reduction and limitation as well as transparency. In the long run, China will have to bear the untied verification mechanism that is identical to developed countries. Domestically, China has specified medium and short-term GHG mitigation targets, and launched the basic capacity building programs. Meanwhile, the system of GHG emissions statistics, estimation and report at national, provincial and department level is under construction [ Gu et al., 2010 ]. We should and also have the ability to constantly strengthen the national inventories development, establish China’s power image internationally, and enhance the sustainable development through knowing ourselves better. In the future, China should strengthen targeted research and practice in the following aspects.

5.1. Improve the institutional arrangements for national inventories development, establish professional team and strengthen capacity building

China should gradually build a dedicated team that specializes in inventories development and management and that contains appropriate number of staff to plan all components of GHG inventories as a whole. Via the support from professional research network and information system, the team should be responsible for the summary of final data, the output of inventories, the gradual application of routines and systemization for inventories development, and hence gradually shorten the period of inventories output. Through the inventories compilation and domestic training with support of international training and capacity building programs, China should cultivate more professionals in order to build, expand and stabilize national inventories task team and high-efficient collaborative network. It suggests that a national inventories committee composed of senior experts should be founded to take responsibility for the verification on the methodology and results of the inventories.

5.2. Drive the gradual combination between the existing statistics and national inventories statistics

The most important work is to ensure that the statistical specifications are consistent with the internationally comparable requirements on inventories data, which asks China’s statistical work to link with international standards. As for the energy inventories development, the urgent tasks are to classify coal species in more detail, integrate transportation fuel consumption, dynamically reflect the alteration of calorific value for main fuel, increase the statistical index of carbon content for main fuel, and bring the non-commercial energy consumption and energy recycle utilization such as the utilization of coal-bed CH4 , into the conventional statistical system. As to the industrial process inventories, it is very important to increase and ameliorate the statistics on the output of lime and hydrogen nitrate, consumption of dolomite and limestone as well as small-scale manufacturing enterprises of electrical equipment.

5.3. Build database of technical parameters and fully take good practices from international experience

In the energy field, because of the special conditions that China’s energy mainly depends on coal, the solid fuel combustion from stationary sources and fugitive GHG emissions in coal exploitation are and will always be the key emissions categories. The IPCC guidelines for inventories compilation require that the key emissions categories should make use of country-specific emissions factors which are able to reflect the country-specific conditions to make estimation on emissions. During two times’ inventories development, the oxidation rate of major coal-burning equipment, calorific value of coal used in different industries and CH4  fugitive intensity of coal mining in different areas have been identified by the method of integrating existing test data and new test data, and combining of producing side and consuming-side data. The process of data collection satisfies the IPCC inventories guidelines, and can reflect the specific circumstance of China.

However, the quantity and range of samples is in lack of representativeness, especially lack of the support of open-published data. It is suggested to launch general survey gradually on the coal quality in China’s industries, increase the measured frequency of coalbed CH4  emissions, make general survey on the carbon oxidation rate for industrial boilers, establish complete database of technical parameters, and do the best to publish those test results in the form of publications to enhance the transparency. Australia’s energy structure is similar to that of China. Australia has accumulated a rich database during the process of inventories compilation. Hence, it is a good example for our reference [ Zhu, 2011 ].

Similarly, in the fields of agriculture, forestry, waste emissions of GHG in which models, mode patterns and IPCC default emissions factors are usually used, it is also very important to build a data base of technical parameters that can reflect China’s country-specific circumstances.

5.4. Form steady domestic funding mechanism to accelerate the pace of time-series inventory development and guarantee the comparability

Although the UNFCCC does not force developing countries to submit annual inventories, Brazil and Mexico have submitted inventory series from 1990 to 2005. China has not yet submitted the second national communication, or prepared the compilation and submission of time-series for inventories. Actually, in the view of both domestic requirements and the international tendency, the development of annual inventories by using independent funds is the unavoidable trend. We should pay high attention to the comparability during the development of time-series inventories. In accordance with the IPCC guidelines requirements, once the data or estimation method is changed, all time-series inventories will need recalculation so as to ensure the comparability of estimated results in different years. Hence, the method of deliberately enlarging the base-year data and lessening assessed-year data is inadvisable.

5.5. Reinforce the GHG management at enterprise level

Besides the national inventories, China has developed inventories at provincial level. From international experience, both the energy and GHG reports at provincial level and the verification system are significant. Enterprises are the business entity for the national economy, in which the industrial enterprises and transportation enterprises are China’s large energy consumption entities. Compared with the potential uncertainty of energy statistics at provincial level, the energy statistics at enterprise level has been significantly reduced through the constant perfection of energy statistics system, monitoring and assessment for enterprises in recent years, especially since the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006–2010). The accomplishment of emissions reports and verification system for enterprises does not only enhance the data quality of the national inventories, but also provides basis for the GHG emissions trading scheme in the near future [ Teng et al., 2011 ].

6. Conclusions

Along with the change of emissions distribution and the launch of ADP, the international climate change regime confronts the transformation which will firstly appear in the NAMAs of developing countries and the principle of MRV, then expand to the submission frequency and review mechanism of the national inventories. In the medium-long run, China, as the largest GHG emissions source, must gradually take the responsibility to limit and reduce emissions that are appropriate with the development stage, and eventually accept the verification mechanism which is identical to that of developed countries. We must plan the domestically independent capacity building and international negotiation as a whole, and make preparations from all aspects including system construction, financial support and team building as soon as possible.


This research was supported by the National Science and Technology Infrastructure Program (No. 2012BAC20B02).

Received: 8 November 2012


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. Approved on the Cancun Conference in 2010, although Bolivia insisted to reject the Cancun Agreement, the agreement was forced to pass through by the chairman of the conference, and relevant decision began to be implemented

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