New website sets sights on emissions clarity

Earlier today, former US Vice President and Nobel Peace Prize Winner Al Gore launched a new database of global greenhouse gas emissions at COP27. The largest in the world, it has been collated by Climate TRACE a not-for-profit coalition of organizations and individuals. 

It uses primary sources including imagery from over 300 satellites alongside artificial intelligence and traditional data collection techniques. Updates will be made monthly to annually, dependent on the exact location, giving the closest to real-time data scientists have had. 

What makes it different to existing datasets is that climate TRACE (which stands for Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) records human-made greenhouse gas emissions not from countries self-reporting figures, as is usual at present, but from monitoring individual companies, ports and industrial sites.  

It also records emissions from non-static sources, predominantly shipping. Importantly, it is independent of both national governments and private companies which might seek to influence its results.  

body of water under cloudy sky during sunset

For instance, London Heathrow Airport is found to be responsible for 6.56 MT CO2E_100YR (million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent using the 100 year global warming potential, the UN Convention on Climate Change’s standard measure). This is roughly equivalent to the national carbon dioxide emissions of Benin in West Africa, one of the poorest countries in the world.  

In launching the new initiative Gore said: ‘The world has long known what the overall amount of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere is. What’s different about this is the accurate apportioning of who’s responsible for what.’  

UN Secretary General António Guterres added: ‘We have huge emissions gaps, finance gaps, adaptation gaps. But those gaps cannot be effectively addressed without plugging the data gaps.’  

The hope is that this information can be used in negotiations to determine where emissions reductions should come from. The argument is that negotiating the closure of a single facility responsible for large volumes of greenhouse gases is easier than negotiating a national cut in emissions. 

But the data is also intended to be a support for poorer nations which don’t have the facilities to gather the data themselves. What’s more, companies can use it to seek out the cleanest factories and transport options, whether that’s for moving broccoli about the UK or smartphones across the world’s oceans.  

Climate TRACE currently has data from almost 80,000 individual facilities which can be freely studied by anyone with web access. The data has already raised serious questions about how official emissions figures are counted. For instance, the coalition suggest emissions from road transport in Russia may be 70% higher than officially recorded.  

India’s emissions from rice production may also be three times higher than thought, due to a lack of accurate previous study. Perhaps more significantly, oil and gas emissions around the world have been discovered to be significantly underestimated in official figures, and that’s before events such as leaks are taken into account.  

When asked if this was a deliberate act or a result of circumstance, Gore said: ‘It’s just almost impossible to believe that it’s an accidental oversight, and all the accidents go in exactly the same direction.’ Such oversight is likely to be much harder in future, with Climate TRACE monitoring numbers in near-to-real time. 

Photo by Marek Piwnicki


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