An inventory of the world’s highest-emitting greenhouse gas sources reveals that oil and gas production emissions are being underreported by as much as three times, due to limited reporting requirements, underestimated methane leaks, and intentional flaring.
The Climate TRACE project used artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze satellite imagery and estimate emissions from 72,612 facility-level emissions sources worldwide, including power plants, steel mills, road networks, and oil and gas fields, to create the “largest available global emissions inventory.”
Available publicly for free, the dataset was unveiled this week at the COP 27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. It showed that “26 of the 50 largest sources of emissions worldwide are oil and gas fields and their associated production, processing, and transportation sites,” reports Turkey’s Anadolu Energy Agency (AA).
Climate TRACE says the inventory has added new data, including evidence of emissions from flaring and methane leakage in Russia, Turkmenistan, the United States, and the Middle East, to produce “updated emissions data that more fully account for the sector’s global emissions.” Among the top countries that report their oil and gas production emissions to the UN, the group says, “emissions are as much as three times higher than self-reported data.”
Thode findings “should be a wake-up call to governments and the financial sector, especially those that continue to invest in and underwrite fossil fuel pollution,” said UN Secretary General António Guterres at the launch of the inventory.
“The problem is even greater than we were led to believe, and that means we must work even harder to accelerate the phaseout of all fossil fuels.”
Power plants are also gargantuan contributors to the global emissions total, accounting for “more than half of the emissions and three-fifths of the assets” in the top 500 emitters.
The top 500 companies on the list, which also include steel and cement plants, industrial farms, aviation, and shipping, have disproportionate climate-wrecking power, the numbers show. While they represent less than 1% of total facilities in the dataset, they accounted for 14% of global emissions in 2021, “more than the annual emissions of the U.S.”
Launched in July, 2020, Climate TRACE is a non-profit coalition devoted to tracking and publishing carbon dioxide and methane emissions within weeks of their release. Founding members include Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab, CarbonPlan, the Rocky Mountain Institute, and Transition Zero, as well as Blue Sky Analytics, a geospatial data intelligence company, and Hypervine, which leads the work on modelling emissions from mining and mineral extraction.
Climate TRACE’s first global emissions inventory released last September found that since 2015, forest fire emissions have almost doubled in Russia and the U.S., while rice field emissions from India may be nearly three times higher than reported in the country’s 2016 inventory.
This year’s study reveals that “flaring is still a common practice in many nations that have signed up to the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030,” says sustainable business media outlet Edie. With the pledge set to announce new members and goals at COP 27, we can “expect the initiative’s leaders to face tough questions off the back of the Climate TRACE findings.”