From New Scientist:
MANY governments, including some that claim to be leading the fight against global warming, are harbouring a dirty little secret. These countries are emitting far more greenhouse gas than they say they are, a fact that threatens to undermine not only the shaky Kyoto protocol but also the new multibillion-dollar market in carbon trading.The article describes some work from the Insitute for Environment and Sustainability at the European Commission Joint Research Centre (Peter Bergamaschi, the lead researcher, has a home page here - although there is no information on this story at either of these links yet). The research is based on direct measurements of atmospheric methane concentrations around the globe, which are then combined with atmospheric modelling.
Such underestimations are significant in the context of both the Kyoto Protocol and emissions trading schemes:
[Using this technique] scientists say they can calculate a country's emissions independently of government estimates. Bergamaschi's calculations suggest that the UK emitted 4.21 million tonnes of methane in 2004 compared to the 2.19 million tonnes it declared, while France emitted 4.43 million tonnes compared to the 3.01 million tonnes it declared.
"Now that money enters the picture, with the Kyoto protocol rules and carbon trading, so also can fraud. There will be an incentive to under-report emissions."
Cynical as I am, I'm ready to give the benefit of the doubt in this instance - estimating emissions is not an easy task, especially for methane where the major sources are landfill sites and peat bogs rather than power stations (although it seems that the government is not exactly jumping over itself to try and improve the monitoring). The real test will come now that these results have been publicised - will the government admit the possible underestimation and revise their figures? I'd also be interested to know whether a study of carbon dioxide would produce similar results.