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New AI monitoring tool backed by Al Gore maps over 72,000 of the planet’s biggest polluters

Climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the 2009 National Clean Energy Summit. Image Credit: Flickr/Center for American Progress
Climate activist and former Vice President Al Gore speaks at the 2009 National Clean Energy Summit. Image Credit: Flickr/Center for American Progress

Did you know that emissions from American transportation alone more than quadruple total emissions in COP27’s host country Egypt?

This is just a morsel of newly comparable data from Climate TRACE, the Al Gore-backed coalition, that unveiled its new artificial intelligence tool at the United Nations climate summit, COP27, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt earlier this month.

For the last three years, hundreds of researchers at Climate TRACE have worked on the project. Using AI, 300 satellites, 11,000 sensors, and collective data science, the tool pinpoints the planet’s 72,612 biggest polluters across 38 industries, making it the world’s most detailed inventory of global greenhouse gas emissions.

While there are devices that steadily track atmospheric pollution, Climate TRACE allows us to accurately see who’s responsible for what and focus on specific emission sources, Gore said via Protocol, making it an invaluable tool in future climate negotiations.

Typing into your search bar leads you to a pale blue and white map of the world scattered with stark navy, red, and yellow dots, concentrated within the borders of the biggest-emitting countries as of 2021.

​​The data spans 241 countries and territories, tallying emissions from every major sector and sub-sector.

Clicking on dots leads you to individual sources of massive pollution, whether it be a power plant, steel mill, landfill, agricultural facility, urban road network, or oil and gas field. The algorithm also tracks sources that move between countries like cargo ships. In total, it calculates nearly 56.33 billion tons of CO2 emissions from its nearly 80,000 2021 assets alone.

According to the non-profit coalition, present pollution trackers significantly underreport emission data from worldwide oil and gas production. In fact, Climate TRACE says that emissions from oil and gas are likely three times higher than present predictions.

The new tool not only shows that about half of the top 50 largest sources of emissions are from oil and gas production (surprise, surprise), but the total global emissions nearly double existing averages, showing that our current measurements are way off.

"We cannot manage and reduce emissions if we cannot measure them," Gore said at the summit. "Last year, we found that emissions from oil and gas production were about double what countries reported to the United Nations. With new data on flaring and methane leaks, we estimate actual emissions are likely triple current reports.”

While the top 500 sources represent less than 1% of Climate TRACE’s inventory, they represent 14% of global 2021 emissions. The leading source of emissions is an oil and gas plant in Permian, Texas, USA which emits 208.61 megatons of CO2 a year. (The town is also, coincidentally, the site of a direct air capture project, intended to balance out its emissions.)

Each economic sector is tracked using its own methodology, managed by team leads, and experts uninvolved in its creation. Several of the individual methodologies are already peer-reviewed. According to Bloomberg, the team plans to put more of its work through that rigorous process.

Confirming what the world already knows, the most emitting plants are concentrated in the U.S., Russia, China, the Middle East, and India, while dots are scarcely scattered across central Africa and South America. Comparing major pollution like no other, the data shows that one singular road in New York ranks #35, and emits 26.55 megatons, or 26.55 million tons of CO2 a year – more than the entire country of Paraguay.

As countries account for their emissions, data like this will be critical, especially for nations lacking the existing resources to track pollution and where it’s coming from. This is primarily due to resource constraints in poorer and smaller countries. For example, Egypt released its first self-reported emissions assessment in 2018, accounting for 2015 pollution.

In addition to helping governments count, data like the fact that Saudi Arabia is responsible for less CO₂ per barrel than both Canada and Venezuela could incentivize nations to scale Saudi Arabian oil and other cleaner sources in order to scale down global emissions.

Not only could governments benefit from the tool, but so can companies. The map has invaluable insights, like underused cleaner steel mills. Companies looking to decarbonize can reassess their supply chains, and switch to facilities that pollute less than their current suppliers.

By next year, Climate TRACE hopes to update the inventory to include every source of emissions and, eventually, program the map to update in real time. Right now the data available is at least annual up until 2021, while some sectors update monthly.

The coalition includes organizations like Earthrise, Ocean Mind, Blue Sky Analytics, RMI, Carbon Yield, John Hopkins University,, Watt Time, and Transition Zero. Funders include Gore, himself, and backers like Google, Schmidt Futures, Benificus Foundation, and his partners at Generation Investment Management.

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