A new tool to track climate change

Climate Trace has created a new-age database to track global greenhouse gas emissions that’s able to pinpoint individual polluters.

A new tool to track climate change
A man walks next to flags during the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, December 3, 2023. REUTERS/Amr Alfliky

It’s become more clear over the past few years that we need to be on top of climate change, tracking our emissions and getting a clearer understanding of who’s responsible. All of this is really dominating discussion as COP28 is ongoing this month. Cue the Climate Trace coalition. Made up of nonprofits and academics, Trace has effectively become a climate watchdog since it came together in 2020.

Climate Trace, co-founded by former US Vice President Al Gore (a noted climate advocate) has created a new-age database to track global greenhouse gas emissions that’s able to pinpoint individual polluters. It can do this by using cutting-edge technology, including machine learning and satellites.

“Climate Trace is filling a vacuum that is presently virtually devoid of accurate information,” Gore explained at COP28. “We can break down exactly where emissions are coming from, facility by facility. If the problem is greenhouse gas emissions, it only makes sense to find out where they’re coming from.”

Trace’s latest report was just released. It shows that, in 2021, Russia didn’t report greenhouse gas emissions of about 1.5 billion tons of CO2. The US, too, left out 400 million tons, most of it coming from the oil and gas sector. For that year alone, Climate Trace estimates that 3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions were unreported by countries required to disclose this info to the UN. That’s about 5% of global emissions.

At the moment, Climate Trace is focused on helping developing regions track their emissions. “Especially in the industrial sector, there was much data we did not have access to,” says Samanta Della Bella, general manager for climate change in the state of Pernambuco in Brazil. Climate Trace can help inform governments in order for them to cut emissions more effectively. Companies have also signed on to use its data to bring down their own emissions.

Gavin McCormick, another co-founder of Climate Trace and executive director of environmental nonprofit WattTime, says: “By harnessing the power of AI and machine learning paired with the right data from satellites and beyond, our models are giving us a picture of the world we’ve never seen before. And it’s allowing us to make climate progress in a way some never believed possible.”