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Climate TRACE data shows fossil fuel emissions 3x higher than reported

Green house gas emissions.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, the Climate TRACE coalition released the most detailed facility-level global inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to date, including emissions data for 72,612 individual sources worldwide.

  • Climate TRACE released the most detailed site based GHG data to date.
  • Fossil fuel emissions are shown to be much higher than reported.
  • The ability to trace emissions across borders and throughout supply chains changes the dynamics of accountability.

The 70,000+ individual sites that were inventoried — including specific power plants, steel mills, urban road networks, and oil and gas fields — represent the top known sources of emissions in the power sector, oil and gas production and refining, shipping, aviation, mining, waste, agriculture, road transportation, and the production of steel, cement, and aluminium.

One of the most striking early insights from this work is the scale of emissions from oil and gas production – particularly those that have not yet previously been reported.

Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) and its data show that because of underreporting of methane leaks, flaring, and other activities associated with oil and gas production, emissions are many times higher than previously reported.

Availability of granular GHG data changes the accountability equation

“The climate crisis can, at times, feel like an intractable challenge – in large part because we’ve had a limited understanding of precisely where emissions are coming from,” said former US Vice President and Climate TRACE founding member Al Gore. “This level of granularity means that we finally have emissions data that enable us to act decisively. It also means we can prioritize efforts to achieve the deep cuts in greenhouse gas pollution we need to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of the climate crisis.”

This latest data — sourced independently and primarily based on direct observations of activity rather than self-reported data — provides the detail and timeliness needed to inform and accelerate decarbonisation decisions worldwide. It can be used to track progress toward net-zero goals and prioritise where they can achieve the greatest impact.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed the launch of Climate Trace data. He said: “The climate crisis is in front of our eyes – but also hidden in plain sight. We have huge emissions gaps, finance gaps, adaptation gaps.   But those gaps cannot be effectively addressed without plugging the data gaps.”

He added: “Climate TRACE will be ushering in an era of radical transparency for emissions tracking – providing independent emissions data based primarily on direct observation of emitting activities.

New data showed outsized emissions impact of a few sources

As the first global inventory to identify and track the largest individual sources of emissions across twenty major sectors of the economy, Climate TRACE’s dataset – which is available publicly and at no cost – is illuminating the outsized role of a handful of individual sources on global emissions.

The top 500 individual sources of emissions worldwide represent less than 1% of total facilities in Climate TRACE’s dataset, yet accounted for 14% of global emissions in 2021, more than the annual emissions of the United States.

Power plants alone represent more than half of the emissions and three-fifths of the assets in the top 500 list. Meanwhile, 26 of the 50 largest sources of emissions worldwide are oil and gas fields (and their associated production, processing, and transportation sites).

Uncovering missing, overlooked, and undercounted emissions

The 2021 Climate TRACE inventory found that emissions from oil and gas production, transport, and refining had been significantly underestimated — owing, in part, to limited reporting requirements and consistent underestimates of methane emissions from both intentional flarings as well as leaks.

The programme has now incorporated new data — including evidence from studies of satellite-detected emissions from practices like flaring and methane leakage in places like Russia, Turkmenistan, the US, and the Middle East — to produce updated emissions data that more fully account for the sector’s global emissions.

Among the top countries that report their oil and gas production emissions to the UN, Climate TRACE found emissions are as much as three times higher than self-reported data.

Filling in the data gaps for countries

Climate TRACE uses satellite coverage, remote sensing, artificial intelligence (AI), and machine learning (ML) to not only directly spot sources of GHG emissions, but to also detect and analyse emitting activities that are otherwise invisible or undetectable.

As of the end of October, no nation has submitted a complete accounting of its emissions for 2021 to the UNFCCC. 52 countries have not submitted any emissions inventories covering the past ten years.

Climate TRACE’s database provides emissions information from 2015-2021 for every party to the Paris Agreement, as well as dozens of additional territories. Climate TRACE’s updated inventory adds emissions data for 2021 and provides additional sub-sector specificity to national inventories.

Assessing emissions on a sectoral basis

Climate TRACE leverages a different approach for each sector, applying existing expertise to new observations in a way that is tailored to reflect the unique aspects of individual emitting industries.

For each sector, detailed methodology documents share information on data inputs, modelling, and relevant peer-reviewed research. All Climate TRACE emissions data are free and publicly available. The coalition has said it strives to make its models and as much non-proprietary underlying data publicly available whenever possible.

In the next year, Climate TRACE will expand and refine its facility-level inventory from at least the top 500+ sources of emissions per sector represented in the Q4 2022 edition of the inventory to cover every major industrial-scale source of emissions in the world

Ensuring the independence of verifiable data

For emissions data to be accepted by all parties it needs to be independent and verifiable. In Climate TRACE, data is derived from more than 300 satellites, more than 11,100 air-, land-, and sea-based sensors, and troves of additional public and commercial information, developing the first global, independent emissions inventory based primarily on direct observation.

It also has a position as an independent. Climate TRACE is intended to track GHGs from every major human-caused emitting activity across the globe, including power plants, factories, ships and more. Its goal is to mobilise the international community as a whole to rescue the planet.

Climate TRACE was jointly created by 10 coalition members: Blue Sky Analytics, Carbon Yield, Earthrise Media, Former Vice President Al Gore, Hypervine.io, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, OceanMind, RMI, TransitionZero, and WattTime.

Over 90 other contributing organisations and researchers were involved, including: Carbon Mapper, CTREES, Descartes Labs, Global Energy Monitor, Google.org, Michigan State University, Minderoo Foundation/Global Plastic Watch, Planet Labs PBC, Synthetaic, Universiti Malaysia Terengganu, and others.

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