Oakland, CA, USA—July 15, 2020—Today nine organizations from around the world and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore announced a cutting-edge initiative that will use artificial intelligence (AI), satellite image processing, machine learning, and other remote sensing technologies to monitor worldwide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This unprecedented collaboration aims to track human-caused emissions to specific sources in real time—independently and publicly. The combined project will be known as Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions).
While climate scientists today have a detailed understanding of the total GHGs in the atmosphere, efforts to trace where those emissions come from have lagged far behind. Tracking GHG emissions from nearly every major human-emitting activity worldwide—such as power plants, factories, large ships, and more—is an enormously difficult undertaking, but advanced AI and machine learning will now make it possible for the first time.
In many countries and sectors the standard is that emitters self-report their own emissions, then manually compile the results. Consequently, many governments, companies, and scientists must rely on data that can be years out of date and sometimes subject to deliberate under-reporting. The resulting data often provides only incomplete, high-level summary information at best.
“We as a society have an excellent, objective way of measuring the total emissions in the atmosphere, called the Keeling Curve. But we haven’t yet figured out any similar way of objectively tracking, in essentially real time, where those emissions are coming from,” explained Gavin McCormick, executive director of coalition member WattTime.
“The Earth is like a medical patient suffering from a condition called climate change. Trying to fix it with only years-late, self-reported emissions data is like asking a doctor to fix a serious disease with no more information than a list of symptoms the patient had years ago. They’ll do their best. But there’s a reason hospitals use blood pressure monitors, stethoscopes—maybe an X-ray or MRI—to check what’s wrong with you right now. If we’re serious about stopping climate change, it’s time we gave climate ‘doctors’ the same kind of tools.”
The Climate TRACE coalition—which so far includes members from across three continents—aims to help. Together with climate leader and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the coalition currently includes nonprofits CarbonPlan, Carbon Tracker, Earthrise Alliance, Hudson Carbon, OceanMind, Rocky Mountain Institute, and WattTime; as well as tech companies Blue Sky Analytics and Hypervine. Each founding member is a carefully selected mission-driven organization with advanced technical capabilities in AI- or satellite-based monitoring in a specific industry, ranging from the power sector, to oil & gas, to agriculture and shipping. By sharing these techniques, the group has concluded it is likely possible to greatly augment existing processes and begin directly measuring nearly all GHG emissions data sources globally in great detail and real time.
“The world has reached a tipping point on the climate crisis. In order to achieve a zero-carbon future, we need a comprehensive accounting of where pollution is coming from,” said Vice President Al Gore. “We are excited that Climate TRACE holds the promise to revolutionize global efforts to measure and reduce emissions across every sector of society, creating a new era of unprecedented transparency and accountability. Our vision is to equip business, policy, and citizen leaders with an essential tool to fully realize the economic and job-creation opportunities of the Sustainability Revolution.”
The potential applications for such a system are numerous, for example:
- For scientists and technologists building emerging emissions-reducing technologies: the tool will accelerate private-sector innovation in advanced carbon optimization techniques in forestry, renewable energy, and power grid management.
- For sustainability teams at private-sector companies, investors, and entire industries: the tool will offer crucial visibility to more-easily and accurately meet emissions-reduction goals, direct sustainable investments (and divestments), and assess risk.
- For countries measuring emissions-reduction progress for the Paris Agreement commitments: the tool may be useful in independently verifying measurements, or supporting emissions monitoring by countries without the resources to produce such detailed, up-to-date inventories.
- For any organizations polluting illegally who might seek to keep their emissions hidden from public view: the tool will provide pioneering transparency and validation to make it easier for governments that have enacted environmental laws to immediately identify any activities that violate those laws.
The Climate TRACE coalition grew out of a collection of smaller global emissions-monitoring projects by individual organizations. In 2019, a group of nonprofits including US-based WattTime and UK-based Carbon Tracker teamed up to apply for Google.org’s AI Impact Challenge with a proposal to monitor all global power plant emissions from space. Google.org not only selected the project for a $1.7 million grant, but also sent a group of seven skilled data engineering and machine learning Fellows to work alongside WattTime and Carbon Tracker for six months to help bring the initiative to fruition.
After the announcement of the Google.org grant, the teams were surprised to immediately hear from more than 50 other organizations and scientists around the world offering to help. They began systematically investigating whether mixing and matching innovations from various groups could improve global emissions monitoring even further. Around the same time, Vice President Gore had been investigating ideas for a more-robust and reliable accounting of global emissions as countries strive to meet Paris Agreement targets and increase ambition to put the world on a sustainable pathway.
The teams learned that over the past few years many companies have achieved dramatic progress in individual advanced technologies that could help with emissions monitoring, such as improved AI algorithms and lower-cost satellites. But many of those breakthroughs have so far been sitting siloed in different organizations.
“Climate TRACE is an attempt to snap together various components many of our organizations have been building individually—algorithms, data sets, and analytical approaches—as if they were Lego bricks,” said McCormick. “Consider coalition member OceanMind. It had built amazing technology to monitor global shipping, but was applying it to other topics such as detecting illegal fishing. By taking the part of their software code that monitors ships, and mixing in others’ know-how about GHG emissions monitoring, it was surprisingly straightforward to extend their technology to also monitor emissions from global shipping.”
“What’s been so inspiring about this initiative is that it’s such a collective effort. Everyone is laser-focused on how much environmental impact this joint tool could have, rather than who gets recognition for which individual building blocks.”
Climate TRACE has swiftly developed a very basic working prototype and is now focusing on iterating and improving the tool. Like many AI projects, the tool will continuously improve as the team adds more data and works out more sophisticated algorithms. The group is cautiously optimistic that it will release the first version in the summer of 2021.
The Climate TRACE coalition welcomes potential collaboration from any organization interested in helping to develop or use a shared global emissions monitoring tool. For organizations and experts with related resources, specifically in the form of remote sensing, computer vision, data engineering, ground truth emissions data, platforms that could use better emissions data to drive impact, and funding, please visit www.climatetrace.org.
Additional Quotes from Climate TRACE Members
The coalition’s members are unified in their commitment to potential positive impact.
“Nearly all the best technology tools that are used extensively today are the product of global collaboration in a free and open-source fashion. As a developer and founder of a tech startup, it’s clear to me that this global coalition is the starting point for the great climate technology of tomorrow.”
— Kshitij Purwar, Founder & CTO, Blue Sky Analytics
“Climate TRACE has brought together an impressive group to take on the critical challenge of using satellite data to track global emissions. We’re excited to work with—and learn from—the coalition.”
— Jeremy Freeman, Executive Director, CarbonPlan
“Investment in space activities has driven scientific and technological advances that have transformed our understanding of Earth’s changing climate. Earthrise Alliance was created to translate this knowledge into meaningful action and to inform critical decision-making that supports and sustains humanity on Planet Earth.”
— Lori Garver, Former NASA Deputy Administrator and CEO, Earthrise Alliance
“Information is the lifeblood of well-functioning financial markets. Climate TRACE offers a potentially powerful application for investors to monitor and verify emissions from those asset owners who are unwilling or unable to disclose timely and accurate data for disclosure initiatives, such as the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures.”
— Matt Gray, Managing Director and Co-Head of the Power & Utilities Team, Carbon Tracker Initiative
“Emissions from extractive industrial agriculture are largely underestimated and underreported. The collective technological power of Climate TRACE has the potential to significantly improve global agricultural emissions quantification. Our efforts as a member of the coalition will democratize agricultural emissions data in a way that influences decision-making from the highest levels of government all the way down to grocery store shoppers.”
— Matt Sheffer, Managing Director, Hudson Carbon
“Hypervine was created to support climate efforts by helping the extractive and construction industries operate more efficiently and reduce their impact on the environment, but we are just one piece of a larger puzzle. Climate change is a global issue and, as such, needs a coordinated global response. The collective power of Climate TRACE has the potential to drive real impact with both speed and transparency.”
— Paul Duddy, CEO, Hypervine.io
“Global shipping accounts for a significant proportion of carbon production, but is currently exempt from the Paris Agreement. Using satellites and AI, it is now possible to get a clear picture of emissions from the shipping sector, helping to provide transparency and accountability. Climate TRACE will offer timely updates on industry progress and celebrate the successes of shipping leaders in reducing emissions.”
— Nick Wise, CEO, OceanMind
“We cannot solve the climate crisis without trusted data that can inform global action. This coalition is a critical step toward helping us see—and act on—the true picture of global GHG emissions. We are excited to integrate publicly available satellite data and present it in a way that makes swift action toward emissions reductions from the oil and gas sector possible.”
— Ned Harvey, Managing Director, Rocky Mountain Institute
About Climate TRACE
Climate TRACE is a coalition created to make meaningful climate action faster and easier by mobilizing the global tech community to track greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with unprecedented detail and speed. Founding organizations include nonprofits CarbonPlan, Carbon Tracker, Earthrise Alliance, Hudson Carbon, OceanMind, Rocky Mountain Institute, and WattTime; tech companies Blue Sky Analytics and Hypervine; as well as climate leader and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Climate TRACE is working to build a cohesive, technical solution to make humanity’s GHG emissions transparent, accessible, and actionable for all.
About Blue Sky Analytics
Blue Sky is a geospatial data intelligence organization that uses AI and machine learning to optimally and efficiently analyze satellite data and build environmental monitoring products. The company sells environmental datasets like air quality via APIs to a variety of customers to help make informed decisions. More details at www.blueskyhq.in or follow us on twitter at @blueskylab.
CarbonPlan is a nonprofit working on the scientific integrity and transparency of carbon removal and other climate solutions. Our small, agile team blends unique expertise in data science, data visualization, climate policy, climate science, and software engineering. We help organizations make decisions to support their climate goals and we work collaboratively with the scientific community to build open source tools and resources. Read more at carbonplan.org or follow us on Twitter at @carbonplanorg.
About Carbon Tracker
The Carbon Tracker Initiative is a team of financial specialists making climate risk real in today’s capital markets. Our research to date on unburnable carbon and stranded assets has started a new debate on how to align the financial system in the transition to a low-carbon economy.
About Earthrise Alliance
Earthrise Alliance incubates policies and technologies to fully utilize satellite data to address climate change. In just the past ten years, there has been an exponential proliferation of frequently refreshed high-resolution satellite imagery and other Earth science data. While this means more data and satellite imagery is being collected, there is still a significant gap in the utilization of this information. Earthrise is working to use this data to stimulate positive action by delivering trustworthy, compelling, and actionable content on issues related to climate change.
Hypervine helps the construction and extractive industries to monitor and measure their GHG emissions using AI and machine learning to deliver actionable insights and drive change for site operations. Being environmentally aware can help reduce operational costs; increase quality, customer satisfaction, and transparency; and bring predictability to site operations. For more information, please visit Hypervine.io or follow us on Linkedin.
About Hudson Carbon
Hudson Carbon is a nonprofit on-farm soil laboratory. We study how organic regenerative farming maximizes carbon capture and have built a rich data set from multiple farms throughout New York’s Hudson Valley. We are in the process of scaling and sharing our research to quantify carbon flux within the global agricultural sector. In Q4 2020, Hudson Carbon will launch the first transparent carbon marketplace that inspires consumers to support farmer’s transition to regenerative practices. For more information visit www.hudsoncarbon.com.
OceanMind is a UK-based nonprofit organization with the mission to power enforcement and compliance to protect the world’s oceans. Our work helps preserve marine biodiversity, protect livelihoods, and prevent slavery in the seafood industry using satellites and AI to identify vessel activities and suspected regulatory non-compliance.
About Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)
Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI)—an independent nonprofit founded in 1982—transforms global energy use to create a clean, prosperous, and secure low-carbon future. It engages businesses, communities, institutions, and entrepreneurs to accelerate the adoption of market-based solutions that cost-effectively shift from fossil fuels to efficiency and renewables. RMI has offices in Basalt and Boulder, Colorado; New York City; the San Francisco Bay Area; Washington, D.C.; and Beijing. More information on RMI can be found at www.rmi.org or follow us on Twitter @RockyMtnInst.
WattTime is a nonprofit with a software tech startup DNA, dedicated to giving everyone everywhere the power to choose clean energy. Our Automated Emissions Reduction (AER) technology can shift the timing of flexible electricity use to sync with times of cleaner energy and avoid times of dirtier energy. We help make it easy for anyone to achieve emissions reductions without compromising cost and user experience. WattTime is a subsidiary of Rocky Mountain Institute. For more information, please visit WattTime.org.
Peter Bronski, Inflection Point Agency for Climate TRACE, WattTime