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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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.

Go deeper

Texas illegal emissions dropped in 2020 but increased in Dallas area

Photo: Samuel Corum for Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Illegal emissions dropped statewide in 2020, but North Texas saw an increase in unauthorized pollutants, according to a report from the Environmental Integrity Project and Environment Texas.

Why it matters: 2020's pollutant decline was mostly due to pandemic shutdowns of manufacturing and oil and gas production and not due to increased enforcement of environmental protections, the report says.

Obama to attend UN climate summit in Glasgow

Former President Barack Obama speaks during the groundbreaking ceremony for the Obama Presidential Center at Jackson Park in Chicago on Sept. 28. Photo: Kamil Krzaczynski/AFP

Former President Barack Obama will travel to Glasgow next month for the UN climate summit, CNN reports.

Driving the news: Obama will meet with young climate change advocates and "urge more robust action going forward by all of us — governments, the private sector, philanthropy and civil society," according to an Obama spokesperson, per CNN.

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Oct 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Visualizing oil's economic footprint in Texas

Data: Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas; Note: A very small amount of the totals reflect mining activity; Chart: Thomas Oide/Axios

Oil and gas production is a key part of the Texas economy. But the state is poised to perform well even if tackling global warming sends the sector into decline, a Dallas Fed analysis argues.

The big picture: Energy price swings have long affected Texas' financial fortunes, with sharp declines "depressing broader activity."