Advancements in the Field of Reservoir Emissons

Payal Parekh
Friday, December 2, 2011

Dead trees in the Petit Saut reservoir, French Guiana
Dead trees in the Petit Saut reservoir, French Guiana

A Briefing on Recent Research and Guidelines

A large and growing number of scientific studies indicate that reservoirs, especially in the tropics, are a significant source of global greenhouse gas pollution. Major institutions such as the International Hydropower Association and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have developed specific guidelines and methodologies for measuring reservoir emissions in the field, though these are not required for countries developing national greenhouse gas inventories.


What's Inside


This briefing report highlights some of the key research and guidelines on calculating reservoir emissions from specific and regional projects. It starts with an assessment of how key institutions measure greenhouse gases, then looks at key advancements in research since 2007, and concludes with an assessment of areas where further research is necessary. It is also available in Spanish.

Among the briefing's findings are:

  • The UNESCO/IHA Greenhouse Gas Measurement Guidelines (2010) is the most comprehensive methodology for assessing greenhouse gas emissions from reservoirs.
  • The IPCC Special Report on Renewable Energy Sources (2011) does a poor job of reviewing the reservoir emissions research but is not factually incorrect.
  • The Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) methodology is adequate in keeping most tropical dams with high greenhouse gas emissions from entering the CDM pipeline.
  • While temperate reservoirs emit less than tropical reservoirs, their emissions are still significant enough that they should be taken into account in global estimates.
  • Drawdown regions should be further investigated to better quantify their contribution to reservoir emissions.
  • Balbina Dam in Brazil emits almost ten times as much carbon per unit of energy than a coal-fired power plant. In a global study of tropical dams, seven out of 12 dams had emissions higher than a thermal power plant.
  • More research is needed on the following: more calculations of net emissions, more studies into the contribution of nitrous oxide from reservoirs, better predictive models, and greater geographic and temporal spread in studies.

We provide this briefing to NGOs, academics, governments, civil society members, and anyone interested in understanding where reservoir emissions research currently stands, and when/where it is necessary to include reservoir emissions in national greenhouse gas inventories.

Full Briefing Report on next page >>

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