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What is Climate Trace, How it tracks carbon emissions?

Climate Trace: With the help of artificial intelligence and the support of large companies, the NGOs WattTime and TransitionZero

By Wahid Bhat
New Update
World could fall into a “doom loop” if climate crisis not prevented

With the help of artificial intelligence and the support of large companies, the NGOs WattTime and TransitionZero got down to work to develop their map. Climate TRACE, the name with which they have presented it to the world, allows seeing the CO2 emission of each region of the planet.

Now, the web has become a system fed by more than 100 organizations, and its objective is to offer truthful information and not be biased by the interest of third parties.

The new tool, led by a group of research institutes and companies from around the world, located 70,000 facilities around the planet that release emissions into the atmosphere, and that belong to sectors such as heavy industry, energy, agriculture, transport and mining.

  • Oil and gas emissions are three times higher than what their producers declare, according to data from the platform promoted by Al Gore, Climate Trace
  • The Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, appreciates the contribution of the report, key "to plug these data gaps" because "it is impossible to effectively manage and control what we cannot measure".

What is Climate Trace

The Climate Trace assesses, in particular thanks to satellite data, the emissions from more than 72,000 sites worldwide, in different sectors (heavy industry, energy production, agriculture, platform, transport, waste or even the mining industry).

The most polluting point on the planet is the Permian Basin in Texas, one of the largest oil fields in the world, in the United States, said former US Vice President Al Gore, one of the project's founders, who will regularly update his information.

"Based on new methane and combustion data, we estimate that actual emissions are three times what has been reported," Al Gore said at the Climate TRACE launch event during the annual UN climate summit, COP27, in Sharm el Sheikh.

Climate TRACE's data show emissions at the facility-level. Image: Climate TRACE

Driven by a "coalition" of research labs, companies, and NGOs, and initially funded by a grant from Google, Climate Trace uses artificial intelligence processes to collect and analyze vast amounts of data.

On the other hand, Climate TRACE allows you to download all this information to your computer. Therefore, you can use it later for your studies, analysis or any other task that requires having this detailed and differentiated information by regions, sectors, and sources.

Methane leaks

Oil and gas production can lead to methane leaks, and, moreover, the gas is often intentionally flared as well, apparently for safety reasons; but sometimes for convenience. 

Atmospheric levels of methane, a greenhouse gas some 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, have risen sharply in recent years, but country-reported emissions of the gas have been found to be much lower than reality.

This undercounting of emissions is a big problem in trying to address the climate crisis, according to Al Gore, a former US vice president and a founding member of the Climate Trace coalition.

Praise from Guterres

The Secretary General of the United Nations, António Guterrez, has thanked the work of Al Gore, "the voice that has inspired us all along to fight against climate change and to ensure that we mobilize the international community as a whole to rescue our planet."

Guterres referred to the fact that, despite the gas emissions inventories sent by the countries, there are still large gaps and that it is key to "cover these data gaps" because "it is impossible to effectively manage and control what we cannot measure".

Image: Climate TRACE

Control of the most precise data on the most remote sources of these emission sources is “essential” to have “a complete picture”, since “many important sources of emissions are not yet on our radar in real-time.

“One of the most striking early insights from this paper is the scale of emissions from oil and gas production, particularly those that have not yet been previously reported,” Guterres said.

Climate Trace data "shows that due to underreporting of methane leaks, flaring, and other activities associated with oil and gas production, emissions are many times higher than previously reported."

Home to highest CO2 emissions

No one expected otherwise. In the first five places on the list of the largest emitters, we find Russia, the United States, China and Iran. Despite the fact that the list uses data from 2021, the positions of each city are constantly updated on the Climate TRACE website.

Image: Climate TRACE

But you can not only see a list of who are the countries with the highest CO2 emissions. Furthermore, you can also compare different regions. For example, the three largest emitting cities in the United States jointly emit about 133 million tons of CO2 per year. This is approximately 12% more than what a country like Venezuela produces each year.

How Climate TRACE avoid biased information

In a world increasingly polluted by gases of all kinds, knowing this information becomes a mandatory measure if we want to stop climate change. However, it cannot be denied that there are companies interested in providing opaque or erroneous information to continue exploiting environmental benefits.

That's why Clima TRACE was born. A partnership between more than 100 different organizations. Initially, it was made up of just two (WattTime and TransitionZero); and it was here that Google.org decided to contribute money to the cause. In this way, the project grew and relied heavily on artificial intelligence to emerge.

Its AI uses satellite data and calculations that allow it to detect the sector to which a specific facility belongs. For example, if it appears to be a place related to livestock, its size is calculated, and later its link with the meat and dairy industry. The number of animals it could contain is then calculated and this results in a fairly reliable estimate of the CO2 levels emitted.

Impressive help of satellites to detect leaks without control

Bloomberg Green has recently been publishing satellite images of methane emissions around the world, in collaboration with emissions monitoring firm GHGSat Inc.

Scientists say that reducing methane emissions is one of the fastest and cheapest ways to cool the planet. Methane has 84 times more warming power than carbon dioxide, but it has a shorter life (two decades), while CO2 remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and responsible for approximately 30% of global warming. Leaks can occur during the extraction and transportation of fossil fuels.

Lucknow, India, on November 5, another image taken shows a methane plume, which GHGSat attributed to a landfill. The estimated emission rate was 1,328 kilograms per hour of methane. Landfills tend to be persistent emitters, according to the Montreal-based company.

The detection shows how garbage, which generates methane when organic matter such as food scraps decomposes in the absence of oxygen, is causing some of the strongest and most persistent emissions in the world. Landfills and wastewater are responsible for approximately 20% of methane emissions generated by human activity.

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