Climate TRACE Releases First Comprehensive, Independent Database of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Oakland, Calif., 16 September 2021 — Today, emissions tracking coalition Climate TRACE unveiled the world’s first comprehensive accounting of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based primarily on direct, independent observation. Climate TRACE’s innovative approach fills critical knowledge gaps for all countries that rely on the patchwork system of self-reporting that serves as the basis for most existing emissions inventories.
Driven by satellites, remote sensing, and advanced applications of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the inventory is particularly relevant to the more than 100 countries that lack access to comprehensive emissions data from the past five years. In practice, this means that heading into climate negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow, world leaders in every country can inform their decisions with data that reflects current emissions trends, rather than trends prior to the creation of the Paris Agreement. Climate TRACE is unlocking an era of radical transparency by identifying precisely when and where emissions are produced, enabling leaders to pinpoint and prioritize where to focus decarbonization efforts for maximum impact.
The inventory, which spans the years 2015–2020, reveals striking insights about recent emissions trends across 10 sectors and 38 subsectors of the global economy. For example, based on Climate TRACE’s newly released data:
- In oil and gas production and refining, among the world’s top countries that submit regular inventories, emissions from oil and gas may collectively be around double (1 billion tons higher than) recent UNFCCC reports. Further, it is likely that over 1 billion additional tons CO2e per year — more than the annual emissions of the 100 lowest-ranking emitting countries combined — have gone uncounted by countries that aren’t required to report their oil and gas emissions regularly.
- Steel production globally resulted in 13.1 billion tons of CO2e between 2015 and 2020, equivalent to the total emissions of Japan and the United Kingdom combined over that same period. In 2020, steel emissions fell in nearly every country except for China. Further, this year China’s steel industry is on track for an estimated emissions increase of 158 Mt CO2e, roughly equal to the entire annual emissions of Singapore.
- Shipping and aviation together emitted nearly 11 billion tons of CO2e between 2015 and 2020, totals that would make these two sectors combined the 5th largest emitter in the world, if they were a country. Shipping emissions increased about 10% per year from 2018–2020 despite the COVID-19 pandemic, considerably faster than expected. Yet emissions from both sectors are exempted from countries’ mitigation commitments under the Paris Agreement.
- Forest fire emissions have more than doubled in Russia and the United States since 2015, which together now emit more from fires than Brazil.
- Rice emissions are higher than previously thought in several countries, and in India’s case may be nearly 3 times the most recent official inventory from 2016. Perhaps even higher: Climate TRACE data also detects substantial cropland fires, which are mostly rice stubble, further increasing rice’s total emissions impact.
To produce these insights, the Climate TRACE coalition harnessed AI and machine learning to analyze over 59 trillion bytes of data from more than 300 satellites, more than 11,100 sensors, and numerous additional sources of emissions information from all over the world. This unprecedented effort provides a significant step forward in emissions monitoring, transforming a system that has previously all too often relied on rough estimates, opaque methods, and inaccessible reporting.
“For far too long, climate action has been hindered by a lack of independent, verifiable data on emissions. Climate TRACE is built on the notion that we can only manage what we can measure,” explained former U.S. vice president and Climate TRACE coalition convening member Al Gore. “We are helping to create a level playing field for everyone who wants to take an active role in reducing emissions — from government ministers and regulators, to investors and business leaders, to journalists and citizen activists. This new era of radical transparency will put everything out into the open.”
The Climate TRACE approach also means that emissions information is more timely than ever before. Historically, because many emissions inventories largely rely on self-reported data, they have taken years to assemble, complicating efforts to know if decarbonization policies are working. Climate TRACE is built to identify emissions quickly and accurately. This first data release is already a massive improvement over the status-quo, providing timely comprehensive data through the end of 2020 and including information at the detailed industry level for subsectors that were not previously available in most countries.
The software behind Climate TRACE also means constantly improving data will become available sooner with even shorter elapsed times between when emissions occur and when they’re included in the Climate TRACE inventory. And over time, the granularity of TRACE data will improve to provide the global community with the ability to view emissions from specific power plants, airports, forests, and countless other assets all over the world, and to “see” emissions fluctuations from a single source, week-by-week.
“Big Data, artificial intelligence, and satellites are shaping people’s lives in so many ways, from shopping to smart home assistants to navigation. Now we’re all applying this technology’s potential to one of the most important issues of our time: the climate crisis,” said Gavin McCormick, executive director of coalition convening member WattTime. “We’ve established a shared, open monitoring system capable of detecting essentially all forms of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is a transformative step forward that puts timely information at the fingertips of all those who seek to drive significant emissions reductions on our path to net zero.”
Climate TRACE grew out of a Google.org grant, which funded a collaboration between WattTime, Carbon Tracker and others to measure power plant emissions from space using satellites. In addition to initial grant funding, Google supplied a team of full time Google.org Fellows who helped build algorithms for power plant monitoring and the initial framework for Climate TRACE.
With the support of the partners of Generation Investment Management, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who is a convening member of the coalition, and further funding from Google.org, the project expanded to cover not just power plants, but all major sources of greenhouse gas pollution. The Climate TRACE coalition launched in July 2020 and now counts 11 nonprofits, tech companies, and universities. More than 50 additional organizations from around the globe have also contributed by providing access to datasets and additional AI models, reviewing Climate TRACE methodology, and validating findings.
The coalition and its data are constantly evolving and improving, and therefore invite any organization interested in contributing data, diving deeper into the inventory, or providing analysis to help enhance global emissions transparency to reach out to explore a collaboration.
About Climate TRACE
Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) is a global coalition of nonprofits, tech companies, and universities created to make meaningful climate action faster and easier by independently tracking greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with unprecedented detail and speed. We harness satellite imagery and other forms of remote sensing, artificial intelligence, and data science expertise to identify human-caused GHG emissions when and where they happen. Coalition members include Blue Sky Analytics, CarbonPlan, Earthrise Alliance, Hudson Carbon, Hypervine, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, OceanMind, RMI, TransitionZero, WattTime, and climate leader and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. For more information, please visit: https://climatetrace.org/.