We know that industries which produce fossil fuels or make heavy use of them in their production processes are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. A new tool identifies which of their operations are the biggest culprits.
Climate TRACE, a coalition of researchers and NGOs, has just released a website that contains estimates of emissions by more than 70,000 individual facilities around the world. It has accomplished this amazing feat by amassing extensive data from remote sensing satellites and combining that with a variety of other public and commercial information. The process includes the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
The result is a resource that allows us to see, for example, which chemical and steel plants account for the most emissions. Users can also zoom into a specific geographic area and see how much individual power plants, mines, and oil fields are contributing to the climate crisis. The information can be broken down by the type of greenhouse gas, and it extends back to 2015.
Climate TRACE is not the only facility-level inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, but it appears to be the most detailed. Its great strength is that does not rely on company-reported data, which can too easily be manipulated.
By using satellites flying high above the earth, Climate TRACE is capturing unfiltered data directly from the facilities. It is, in effect, getting the power plants, refineries and the rest to confess the true impact they are having on the planet. A press release announcing the database claims that the use of AI will create increasingly accurate analyses of the satellite imagery.
What makes the tool even more powerful is that it incorporates ownership information about the facilities. It includes data on more than 4,000 companies, including state-owned enterprises, in 234 countries and administrative regions. A methodology document indicates that automated methods were used in compiling the data but few details are provided.
The website would be even more valuable if it added a feature allowing searches by facility and parent name and if it followed the lead of the Greenhouse Gas 100 and displayed emissions totals for large corporations. These types of tabulations put more pressure on the companies with the worst results and help climate campaigners identify the most urgent targets.
The extensive geographic scope of the data in Climate Trace will serve many purposes. For example, it reveals the extent to which emissions in Global South countries are caused by facilities owned by foreign investors. It also allows more accurate estimates of greenhouse gases being generated at various points in global supply chains.
The database arrives at a crucial time. One of the key questions being asked at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt is who will pay for the damage global warming is already creating as well as the cost of the adjustments needed to limit future damage. A substantial portion of that cost should fall on large corporations. Climate TRACE helps us determine which companies should get the biggest bills.