Skip to main content

Artificial Intelligence and Satellite Technology to Enhance Carbon Tracking Measures

New carbon emission tracking technology will quantify emissions of greenhouse gas, holding the energy industry accountable for its CO2 output. Backed by Google, this cutting-edge initiative will be known as Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions).

Advanced AI and machine learning now make it possible to trace greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from factories, power plants and more. By using image processing algorithms to detect carbon emissions from power plants, AI technology makes use of the growing global satellite network to develop a more comprehensive global database of power plant activity. Because most countries self-report emissions and manually compile results, scientists often rely on data that is several years out of date. Moreover, companies often underreport carbon emissions, rendering existing data inaccurate. 

Climate TRACE addresses these issues by partnering with other leaders in sustainability practices—including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, WattTime, CarbonPlan, Carbon Tracker, Earthrise Alliance, Hudson Carbon, OceanMind, Rocky Mountain Institute, Blue Sky Analytics and Hypervine. The Climate TRACE coalition aims to help countries in meeting Paris Agreement targets and place the world on a path to sustainability.

The carbon tracking efforts of Climate TRACE will result in a conglomeration of data to be made available to the public, which may assist plaintiffs in climate liability cases and lead to enhanced enforcement of environmental laws. The slow pace of international climate negotiations has led to an increase in lawsuits demanding action on global warming. As of this year, 1,600 climate-related lawsuits have been filed worldwide, including 1,200 lawsuits in the United States alone. Currently, climate liability cases rely predominantly on a database run by the Carbon Disclosure Project and the Climate Accountability Institute. This database, initially released in 2013 as the Carbon Majors Report, attempts to link carbon pollution to emitters. The 2013 report pinpointed 100 producers responsible for 71% of global industrial GHG emissions. Its 2017 report, for instance, indicated that 25 corporate and state producing entities account for 51% of global industrial GHG emissions. While the Carbon Majors Report has assisted in determining the largest carbon emitters on a global scale, Climate TRACE will provide more frequent and accurate monitoring of pollutants.

Data from Climate TRACE will also help hold countries accountable to the Paris Climate Agreement, expanding upon European efforts to monitor global warming. Early last year, a space budget increase put Europe in the lead to monitor carbon from space using satellite technology. In December 2019, member governments awarded the European Space Agency $12.5 billion. This substantial increase allowed the ESA to devote $1.8 billion to Copernicus, a satellite technology program which continuously tracks Earth’s atmosphere. The program allowed Europe to analyze human carbon emissions regularly. With Copernicus, the ESA became the only space agency to monitor pledges made under the Paris Climate Agreement. The Climate TRACE coalition—with members spanning across three continents—will make carbon monitoring a global effort. 

Climate TRACE has created a working prototype that is currently in its developmental stages. The coalition intends to release its first version of the AI project by the summer of 2021. 

Subscribe To Viewpoints