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Al Gore’s Climate TRACE finds vast undercounts of CO2 emissions by industry – Gore’s CO2 tracing seeks to make ‘more enforceable climate agreements’ by giving the ‘UN actionable intelligence to track & crack down on polluters’

By Andrew Freedman

A high-tech independent effort to track greenhouse gas emissions from every country, industrial facility and power plant announced its first results on Monday.

Why it matters: Climate TRACE utilizes satellite data, machine learning and artificial intelligence to determine greenhouse gas emissions globally. It aims usher in an era of “radical transparency” and a more enforceable climate agreement by giving nonprofits, governments and the UN actionable intelligence to track and crack down on polluters.

What they found: The project, a collaborative effort between Al Gore, think tank RMI, TransitionZero, WattTime and others, found significant discrepancies between emissions that were reported to the UN under a 1992 climate treaty, and their independent estimates.

  • They also concluded that in many cases, countries that self-reported their emissions to the UN are doing so with considerable accuracy.
  • The data released Monday shows that among the world’s top countries that submit regular oil and gas production and refining emissions, the actual amounts may be twice (1.4 billion tons) what has been reported.
  • The project also found that more than 1 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide equivalent have gone uncounted by countries that aren’t required to submit regular data on oil and gas emissions.

Meanwhile: Also, consistent with observed trends in forest fires, greenhouse gas emissions from forest fires have more than doubled in Russia and the U.S. since 2015, and now exceed that of Brazil.

How it works: Climate TRACE researchers used observations from satellites, including those of the company Planet, to discern emissions across nations and industries. Gavin McCormick, co-founder and executive director of WattTime, a Climate TRACE convening member, said insights come from hundreds of satellites and advanced techniques to analyze this imagery.

  • “We’re doing more things like using visible light to see cloud plumes of steam coming out of power plants, and then cross-verifying against instruments that for example detect heat,” McCormick said. “And then really subtle things like water ripples, if a factory or power plant has cooling water in a river, we can actually tell a lot, because the river ripples from it.”
  • Gore told Axios the initiative will also benefit the financial sector by giving investors more information about their portfolios.
  • “When investors who are committed to net zero portfolios can see for themselves exactly what the emissions are in from companies that they are considering for inclusion in their portfolios, they can make more precise and intelligent decisions, and their clients are increasingly demanding this,” he said.