As world leaders gather for COP26, an investigation from the Washington Post finds countries are seriously underreporting their emissions.

By Zoya Teirstein, Grist

World leaders and diplomats are gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, this month for the 26th meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to tout their countries’ progress on controlling global warming. The Paris Agreement — the 2015 international treaty aimed at keeping temperatures “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) — obligates almost every nation on the planet to slash its emissions as fast as possible. But the success of the treaty, and the possibility of a livable planet, rely on countries being honest about the true scope of their contributions to climate change.

months-long investigation by the Washington Post, published Sunday, shows many nations are using faulty data as the basis for their climate pledges. The gap between the emissions numbers world leaders are reporting at COP26 and the true impact of their emissions on the atmosphere is huge — equivalent to somewhere between the amount of emissions produced in a year by a major industrialized nation (8.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases) and almost a quarter of humanity’s total annual contribution to the climate crisis (13.3 billion metric tons). The gap is wide enough to bump the world off course as it tries to rein in warming.

Solar panels and windmills give way to smokestacks in the background
Photo by Tomoki Eto

“The plan to save the world from the worst of climate change is built on data,” the report, which assessed the emissions numbers that 196 countries reported to the U.N. against independent scientific global emissions assessments, said. “But the data the world is relying on is inaccurate.”

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