“We must take all territorial emissions from Sweden into account”

2021-09-16

Hello there! Lars Tranvik, Professor of Limnology at the Department of Ecology and Genetics, who recently penned an op-ed for the Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter on the fact that greenhouse gas emissions from Swedish wetlands, lakes and water courses are omitted from Sweden’s climate reporting to the UN.

Lake, wetlands, and forest in Värmland

According to researchers Lars Tranvik and Anders Lindroth, greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands, lakes and watercourses are missing from Sweden's climate reporting to the UN.

Photograph: Lars Tranvik

Hello there! Lars Tranvik, Professor of Limnology at the Department of Ecology and Genetics, who recently penned an op-ed for the Swedish broadsheet Dagens Nyheter on the fact that greenhouse gas emissions from Swedish wetlands, lakes and water courses are omitted from Sweden’s climate reporting to the UN.

Why did you and Anders Lindroth, Emeritus Professor of Natural Geography at Lund University, write this op-ed?

Lars Tranvik, Professor of Limnology
at the Department of Ecology and
Genetics, Uppsala University.
Photo: Mikael Wallerstedt

“The starting points were in fact the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and its associated Paris Agreement which entered into force in 2016. All signatories have undertaken to implement measures that help to ensure that the goals stated in the Agreement are achieved. In terms of its climate policies, Sweden has a goal that by 2045 we will have reached the point where our emissions are negative. In other words, we will be absorbing more greenhouse gases than we emit. It is clearly stated that this relates to all territorial emissions from Sweden. That means we also have to be aware of the greenhouse gas balance across all areas of our land area. The current reporting guidelines omit key greenhouse gas emissions.

What we believe is wrong is to claim that Sweden has such a big carbon sink – primarily in its forests – that compensates for much of our emissions. If you take the entire landscape into account, including lakes, wetlands, marshes and water courses, this cancels out more than half of the carbon sink that we are reporting as being present. Much of it escapes as methane, which is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.”

In your article, you suggest that climate reporting should be supplemented with data from national research infrastructures and that such bodies are already making measurements of greenhouse gas emissions from lakes, wetlands and water courses to some extent. Which infrastructures are these?

“Well, we have SITES, the Swedish Infrastructure for Ecosystem Science. This network includes the Erken Laboratory, which is run by the Department of Ecology and Genetics at Uppsala University. Then there’s a European infrastructure known as ICOS that measures flows into and out of ecosystems. One of their research stations is based at Östergarnsholm on Gotland and is run by the Department of Earth Sciences. Both SITES and ICOS are funded by the Swedish Research Council.”

But if these measurements are already being made, how is it possible that they are not being included in the calculations of Sweden’s greenhouse gas balance?

“The reason why it has ended up like that is probably partly down to the fact that the reporting principles are 20 years old and fail to take into account more recent knowledge. We also have to assume there is a long history of political negotiation. The regulations that apply to reporting under the UN Climate Change Convention are rather complicated, and largely relate to emissions from industry, traffic, and so on. When it comes to emissions from the natural landscape as a whole, the focus is on managed land. In Sweden, we also include unmanaged forests. Then there are certain ecosystems that are not included in the reporting and which make little difference to the overall picture, such as mountains. However, marshes, wetlands, lakes and other bodies of water are important components. Lakes and water courses are not counted as managed, but they are definitely impacted by the land use surrounding them. They are important to the total greenhouse gas balance.”

What about other countries? How do they account for emissions from lakes and water courses in their climate reporting?

“Lakes and water courses have been included since 2014 in the overall analysis of the carbon balance in the major assessment reports issued by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There is also an increasing body of literature indicating that we risk significantly increased methane emissions as a result of eutrophication caused by the agricultural sector among others, in combination with rising temperatures – especially at warmer latitudes. However, this is not covered in the guidelines that apply to nations’ reporting under the UN Climate Change Convention. We believe that the rules relating to climate reporting to the UN ought to be updated and brought up-to-speed with current knowledge in terms of sources of and sinks for greenhouse gases.”

Anneli Björkman

Nyheter från institutionen för ekologi och genetik

Last modified: 2021-04-20