Satellite monitoring of greenhouse gas emissions revealed at COP27 calls into question data from the Global Carbon Project, providing a very different set of numbers for global carbon emissions.
According to the dataset, several industries are under-reporting emissions: particularly the global oil and gas industry, which may have emissions three times higher than official estimates.
Satellites are becoming an increasingly useful source for monitoring greenhouse gas emissions.
They can provide an independent estimate of how much any given source is emitting, rather than relying on self-reporting.
This is the logic behind nonprofit organisation Climate TRACE, which has just launched a global map of greenhouse gas emissions estimates from satellite data.
Former US vice president Al Gore, a founding member of the organisation, has unveiled the most recent dataset at COP27 in Egypt.
The organisation uses a network of 300 satellites, in combination with other remote sensing data and AI, to track emissions at nearly 80,000 sources.
In 2021, according to Climate TRACE’s estimate, the world emitted 56.33 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.
“It blows away all the data being presented in the Global Carbon Project, which is based on self-reporting by nations,” says Peter Newman, a Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University who is currently attending COP27 and watched Gore’s launch.
The Global Carbon Project’s estimates for 2021 were 40.2 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent.
“Climate TRACE shows that oil and gas are the big error as they only report around half of their actual emissions generated in production of their fuels,” says Newman.
“Actual emissions, that include methane leaks, shows oil and gas are perhaps only reporting one third of their real emissions.
“Other major errors are made by power plants. The top 500 sources of emissions globally emit more than all of the US’ emissions, with 51% coming from power plants,” says Newman.
According to Climate TRACE’s data, Australia emits 0.65 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent, making it responsible for 1.10% of global carbon emissions and the 15th-largest emitter in the world.
But the Global Carbon Budget estimates Australia’s emissions as only 0.39 gigatonnes per year. This is also 1.1% of the Budget’s emissions.
According to Climate TRACE, seven of the top 10 emitters in Australia were power plants, with the remaining three being Melbourne’s roads, and two oil and gas fields (Ichthys and Wheatstone).
The biggest emitter in Australia is the Eraring power station in NSW, slated to close in 2025. It was responsible for 14.29 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent in 2021 (or 0.014 gigatonnes).
Chevron’s Gorgon gas mine, once the self-styled “world’s largest carbon capture and storage project” was listed as the 14th largest emitter in Australia.
The mine was approved on the basis that it would capture and store 80% of the CO2 it emitted over a five-year rolling average.
According to Climate TRACE’s data, the field emitted 5.615 megatonnes of CO2-equivalent in 2021 alone.
“Now we have to get on top of these recalcitrant oil and gas producers who are out of control,” says Newman.
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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