The highly-anticipated climate change deal is in. Nearly 200 nations at the COP21 climate summit in Paris have adopted an agreement to keep the rise in global temperature below 2 degrees Celsius. This deal is a major turning point in the fight against global warming.
But this is just the beginning.
The focus will now have to shift to turning the agreement into real-world results. Among other things, that means we have to invest in the development of emission estimation systems that track the world’s emissions so we can measure how much carbon we’re emitting into the atmosphere.
These measurement systems are not likely to make the headlines. But without them it’s impossible to really know how much carbon and other greenhouse gases a country is emitting, let alone compare options for reducing emissions. These systems are the speedometer of climate change – and without them we have no way of knowing how fast we’re going.
However, the sheer complexity of setting up these systems means that most countries rely on approaches that don’t provide enough accuracy to measure emissions with the confidence that the climate negotiators require.
The Clinton Foundation’s Clinton Climate Initiative has spent the last five years working with the Government of Kenya to overcome this challenge in the land sector, which is one of the most difficult sectors to measure. SLEEK (System for Land-based Emissions Estimation in Kenya) focuses on forestry and land-use change by building datasets on climate, soil, crops, forests and land-cover. It will capture the emissions that are released when a tree is cut down, a farmer changes their crops or emissions are reduced when new trees are planted.
Building the SLEEK system has been a monumental effort. The program has brought together scientists from over fifteen government entities including government officials who set measurement policies, field staff to measure carbon and computer coders to design appropriate programs. Funding and support for the program has been provided by the Government of Australia.
Early in the system’s development it was clear that the data being collected through SLEEK could do much more than simply measure emissions. For example, SLEEK could help improve agriculture (which is fundamental to the lives of so many Kenyans) as it has helped the government to collect data that will eventually be used by farmers and communities to increase their yields. SLEEK also presented an opportunity to fill key gaps in the datasets that Kenya needs to for sustainable development. For example, SLEEK has worked with the Kenya Meteorological Service to digitize 1.8 million climate records that had previously sat in paper books. This has significantly improved Kenya’s capacity to understand its climate and develop maps that show the weather at any point in the country, which will improve Kenya’s ability to understand its climate and understand how a changing climate is affecting Kenya.
SLEEK is the first system of its kind in Africa, and Kenya’s leadership in delivering the system has paved the way for other countries to get a better handle on accurately measuring their emissions. To encourage this sharing and collaboration, the SLEEK software has been deliberately built to be generic, which means that other countries will be able to use it to estimate their own emissions. This will significantly reduce the cost of setting up similar systems in other countries.
The landmark agreement adopted in Paris shows that we have the necessary leadership and ambition to keep the world’s rise in temperature below two degrees. We now need to work together to build technical capacity. If we can’t measure greenhouse gases, then it makes it very hard to reduce the amount being emitted. The Clinton Foundation is tackling this problem hand-in-hand with the Government of Kenya.