Agricultural soil greenhouse gas emissions: a review of national inventory methods

J Environ Qual. 2006 Jul 6;35(4):1413-27. doi: 10.2134/jeq2005.0157. Print Jul-Aug 2006.


Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are required to submit national greenhouse gas (GHG) inventories, together with information on methods used in estimating their emissions. Currently agricultural activities contribute a significant portion (approximately 20%) of global anthropogenic GHG emissions, and agricultural soils have been identified as one of the main GHG source categories within the agricultural sector. However, compared to many other GHG sources, inventory methods for soils are relatively more complex and have been implemented only to varying degrees among member countries. This review summarizes and evaluates the methods used by Annex 1 countries in estimating CO2 and N2O emissions in agricultural soils. While most countries utilize the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) default methodology, several Annex 1 countries are developing more advanced methods that are tailored for specific country circumstances. Based on the latest national inventory reporting, about 56% of the Annex 1 countries use IPCC Tier 1 methods, about 26% use Tier 2 methods, and about 18% do not estimate or report N2O emissions from agricultural soils. More than 65% of the countries do not report CO2 emissions from the cultivation of mineral soils, organic soils, or liming, and only a handful of countries have used country-specific, Tier 3 methods. Tier 3 methods usually involve process-based models and detailed, geographically specific activity data. Such methods can provide more robust, accurate estimates of emissions and removals but require greater diligence in documentation, transparency, and uncertainty assessment to ensure comparability between countries. Availability of detailed, spatially explicit activity data is a major constraint to implementing higher tiered methods in many countries.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture*
  • Carbon Dioxide / analysis
  • Carbon Dioxide / metabolism
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods*
  • Gases / metabolism*
  • Geography
  • Greenhouse Effect*
  • International Cooperation
  • Methane / analysis
  • Methane / metabolism
  • Nitrous Oxide / analysis
  • Nitrous Oxide / metabolism
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Temperature


  • Gases
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Methane