Al Gore helped launch a global emissions tracker that keeps big polluters honest

Updated Nov 14, 2022 5:18 a.m. ET

In the struggle to reduce greenhouse gas emissionsone of the long-standing challenges has been figuring out who exactly produces them and in what quantities.

Now, a new global tracker is helping pinpoint exactly where major greenhouse gas emissions are coming from. Created by the association Climate Trace, the interactive map uses a combination of satellites, sensors and machine learning to measure the world’s top polluters.

It observes the amount of greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – emitted at specific places, such as power plants and oil refineries. Former Vice President Al Gore, who is a founding member of the initiative, said it is meant to serve as a more reliable and accurate alternative to companies that self-report their emissions estimates.

“Cheating is impossible with this AI method, because they would have to somehow tamper with multiple sets of data,” he told NPR’s Michel Martin on All things Considered.

Gore recently returned from Egypt where world leaders gathered to discuss the climate crisis at the annual United Nations climate conference, also known as COP27.

He believes the tracker will help countries meet their pledges to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Climate Trace wants to track nearly every major source of greenhouse gas emissions

The broadcasts tool uses more than 300 satellites; sensors on land, aircraft and ships; as well as artificial intelligence to build emission estimation models.

Currently, it tracks approximately 72,000 of the highest emitting greenhouse gas sources. This includes all power plants, large ships and large aircraft around the world, Gore said.

And that’s just the beginning. By next year, Gore hopes to track millions of major transmitter sites.

“We’ll pretty much have them all,” he said.

Gore said 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from countries that have pledged to become carbon neutral by 2050. “Now that they know exactly where it’s coming from, they have tools that will allow them to reduce their emissions,” he said. NPR.

He added that the database, which is free and accessible online, can help inform countries about the amount of pollution emitted by the companies they work with or plan to work with.

It is not enough for companies to declare themselves, he said. For example, Climate Trace found that the oil and gas industry had significantly under-reported its emissions.

“We found that their emissions are three times higher than what they told the United Nations,” Gore said.

In the United States in particular, oil and gas producers underestimated the amount of methane they released, recent research suggests.

That doesn’t mean the companies were intentionally cheating, Gore added. However, he said under-reporting prevents governments and the public from staying on track with their net zero commitment.

Six regional governments in Mexico, Europe and Africa have already entered into working agreements to use the tool, Gore said.

Gore remains optimistic about climate future

The world is generally far from its target of reducing emissions that drive climate change, but Gore said he was impressed with recent efforts around the world to tackle the problem.

In the United States, Gore emphasized the Inflation Reduction Act, which includes more than $360 billion to fight climate change and encourage consumers to make greener choices. Gore described the law as “the biggest climate legislation in the history of the world”.

He also praised Australia for voting in a new government that promised abandon coal and Brazil for elect a new president who has sworn to stop destroying the Amazon.

“So there is great danger, but there is hope,” Gore said. “If we can summon the will to act.”

Ana Perez and Adam Raney produced and edited the audio interview.

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Stephen V. Lee