300 satellites, 11,100 air, land and sea sensors, a network of direct and external observers: this is the massive infrastructure needed for the first independent global inventory of man-made emissions based on direct observation. This project, led by Al Gore, the former vice president of the United States, was presented at COP 27, in Sharm El Sheikh, on November 9th.
Climate Trace, her new baby, lists the hotspot major emitters on the planet, both from power plants and industrial sites. More than 70,000 sites are listed, most notably power plants and oil and gas fields. But also steel mills and other urban road networks. Economic actors, which are the largest emitters of CO2, are also mapped in the sectors of electricity, shipping, aviation, mining, waste, agriculture, steel, cement and aluminum production. The data is accessible free of charge.
Emissions sometimes three times higher than the declared data
The 2021 inventory already brings its share of surprises or confirmations, most notably the fact that emissions from the production, transportation and refining of oil and gas are significantly underestimated. “Among the major countries reporting their emissions from oil and gas production to the United Nations, Climate Trace notes that emissions are up to three times higher than reported data,” the organization’s documents read. It is based on satellite evidence, particularly on flaring practices on fossil fuel fields and methane leaks in countries such as Russia, Turkmenistan, the United States or the Middle East. .
The World Weather Organization (WMO), which announces temperature records every year, also wants to shed light on the reality of CO2 emissions. It announced in Sharm El Sheikh that it wants to connect all the major scientific networks in the world to measure greenhouse gas emissions. “The scientific community is ready,” says Emmanuel Salmon, head of strategy and international cooperation at Icos, the European scientific network that already brings together specialists in greenhouse gas monitoring from 16 EU countries, including France.
Satellites, buoys, towers
Emmanuel Salmon works on the international development of the network. “We can do better than Al Gore,” he explains with a smile between two side events at COP 27, because we do what we call ‘in situ’ monitoring of the soil, oceans and air and that we treat all flows of greenhouse gases, anthropogenic , biogenic and oceanic “.
In particular, Icos gained worldwide fame last September by identifying the first anomalous emissions of methane following the attacks on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in the Baltic Sea, three days before the satellites that have not detected anything in the event of cloud cover. “We are complementary to satellites,” explains the scientist. The network is increasingly working on measuring CO2 emissions in major cities, such as Paris, Munich or Zurich. Objective ? “It helps elected officials with tools that allow them to verify the relevance of their climate policies much faster, whether it’s a car-free day or car traffic control.”
A global network at WMO
The manager adheres to the idea of the global WMO network. The value of this project, continues Emmanuel Salmon, is the idea of its global scientific coordination. The WMO does not have the money but the power to give methodologies and guidelines common to all scientists. “And there are emission monitoring networks all over the world in the United States, Australia, Europe, more or less extensive, more or less specialized.
In Sharm El Cheick, the WMO project sparked important discussions within the SBSTA – the body responsible for scientific matters within the Convention -, says the scientist. The WMO pushes, even the UNCAC. Some countries, particularly India, Australia and Saudi Arabia, countries that broadcast a lot and don’t want us to go and watch their broadcasts closely, are very reluctant. If they don’t accept it, they will still have to deal with data collected by a new generation of satellites, particularly Japanese satellites in the wake of the GOSAT 2 launched in 2019.
For all states, the boom in CO2 emissions calculation systems will be all the more important as the first “global stocktake” or global assessment of the “collective progress of the world” looms very soon – a year towards the achievement of the ‘Paris Agreement’ where each State must return its copy to COP 28.
In terms of results, countries provide inventories of their CO2 emissions reductions under the Climate Convention. But, if they coordinate on how this data is measured, reported and verified, they remain masters of their announcements, therefore of the performance or faults displayed and the degree of accuracy of the information provided. With more or less rigor.
As Al Gore points out, “at the end of October, no nation submitted to the UNFCCC a complete accounting of their emissions for 2021. 52 countries have not submitted any inventories of their emissions in the past decade.” A situation that is becoming politically unsustainable as climate deadlines get shorter each year. In nine years, at the current rate of emissions, humanity will have consumed the entire global carbon balance compatible with a 1.5 ° C warming at the end of the century.