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.