Here is how to use CO2 tracker Climate Trace

At COP 28 in UAE in December 2023, former U.S. Vice President and Climate Trace Co-Founder, Al Gore, launched Climate Trace, a new website revealing independent CO2 data for over 325 million polluting assets around the world. Climate Trace independently estimates the greenhouse gas emissions data for all the major sources of global emissions, including power plants, refineries, factories, transport hubs and shipping routes and waste sites.


At the launch, Al Gore said, “Leaders from the public and private sectors can now do what’s never been possible before. They can look clearly at the causes of the climate crisis all the way down to the individual source. They can pinpoint where to take action almost immediately.” He added, “With this inventory at our fingertips, there’s no longer a valid excuse for anyone — businesses, governments, or otherwise — to turn a blind eye to the work that must be done to slash emissions significantly and quickly.” 


Climate Trace says it estimates CO2 data using imagery and sensor data, “Each Climate TRACE sector uses a methodology that is specialized and relevant to each particular sector to estimate emissions. The most common method is using computer vision models to combine one predictor variable (such as satellite imagery) and one high-quality source of ground truth data (such as verified, calibrated sensors located at individual facilities).” 


This sounded like a major breakthrough to me, so I tested the website and learned how to use it.

The tracker pinpoints and estimates CO2 emissions sources
Case Study: Tampa Bay, FL, CO2 Emissions Sources

Climate Trace is aimed at businesses and governments who need data to work out how to reduce their CO2 and other GHG emissions.


However, the first thing that I really liked about Climate Trace is that it’s free and open to everyone. To this point, ESG and climate data has been hidden behind pay walls by data firms and even non-profits (I don’t know how they get away with non-profit status, but that is for another day). Now, everyone can see GHG emissions for up to the top 500 CO2 emitters in every sector in every country. You can look up data by region, country, or smaller area, and by economic sectors and sub-sectors. This means you can look up the world or your whole continent if you want, or exactly pinpoint the power plant or factory or waste site or transport hub near you to see what their emissions are.


Case Study: Tampa Bay, Florida, CO2 Emissions Sources


I looked up the Tampa Bay Area (Tampa, St. Petersburg and smaller towns) in Florida, USA, since that’s an area I know well. It’s also one that’s dealing with climate change because of its subtropical location on the Gulf of Mexico.  I zoomed in on the area in the Climate Trace map and I selected all sectors and their 100 year contribution to CO2 emissions. You can see the map result above. From a quick glance, I found out all the major sources of emissions in the area, as well as Climate Trace’s level of confidence on their accuracy for each data source.


The maps are color coded and you can click on each shaded area or dot for the CO2 source. If you look at the screenshot of Tampa Bay Area above, the yellow dots and shaded area are transport-related, the grayish dots are power plants and the green dots are waste and disposal sites. The large yellow and grey dots in this map refer to airports and power plants. No surprises that these are major emitters, illustrated by the larger size of the dots. In fact if the U.S. military base in this location was included, transport emissions in the area would surely be higher. I don’t know for sure why military emissions are excluded, but assume it has to do with restricted data.


I was surprised to learn how much of the total CO2 emissions in the area come from all the green dots – waste disposal sites, landfills, industrial waste sites and water waste sites. Reducing this waste and associated CO2 emissions, along with reducing transport- and power-related emissions, gave me a clear take on what residents and local governments should prioritize in the Tampa Bay area to achieve a bigger drop in carbon emissions.


The potential here strikes me as huge! Every local and national government and every community group in the world can use this resource to be more effective in reducing their emissions, by pinpointing and easily visualizing the major CO2 emissions sources to be addressed. And for those who are moving slowly, sunlight is the best disinfectant. This new transparency in CO2 and other GHG emissions has the potential to drive more accountability from government and private leaders for what major emissions sites are doing to reduce their emissions.


The resource is not only confined to built-up areas with lots of CO2 emitting infrastructure. By far the largest of Climate Trace’s datasets is its Forest and Land Use Sector data. Incredibly, according to Climate Trace, this data covers every square kilometer of land on Earth! You can download all this data if you’re a data scientist, or you can simply select the Forestry and Land Use Sector from the map’s dropdown menu to look at data in the geographical area that interests you. You will find net carbon stock change data for forests, grassland and wetland. This tells you whether CO2 removal from the atmosphere is going up or down based on local forestry and land use.



Rank and compare CO2 emissions in supply chains


Climate Trace has a very useful rank and compare feature for business. A major problem for businesses is that they have promised to reduce or achieve net zero carbon emissions by some point in time, however, they can’t access all the CO2 emissions data in their supply chains to report, monitor and reduce it. Climate Trace has estimated emissions for up to the top 500 assets in every sector in every country.


So for example, if you know that your business sources polypropylene plastic from Duolun in China, you can open the Comparison Tool, select China, Manufacturing sector and Chemicals subsection and you will get a list of Chinese chemical manufacturers ranked according to Climate Trace’s CO2 emissions estimates. In this list you will find the estimated carbon footprint for all the largest chemical manufacturers in China ( I found 100), and you will find them ranked from highest to lowest emissions. In this case, the Xilin Gol chemical factory in Duolun ranked as the highest CO2 emitter in 2022 for China. If this is your supplier factory, you now understand that your CO2 emissions may be relatively high compared to similar factories in China.


Businesses can also use the Comparison Tool to compare the same sector in two countries as part of a research process into how they might reduce their carbon footprints in their supply chains. For example, I selected Asia, China and India, Manufacturing sector, and Aluminum sub-sector. I found that the Indian plants had much lower CO2 emissions than the Chinese plants, but that the Chinese plants were generally operating at much higher capacity too.


Some businesses are already using this tool. Climate Trace cited car makers Tesla, GM and Polestar as using the Climate Trace data to validate the CO2 data they get from their suppliers and to fill gaps.


I think the main value of Climate Trace for businesses is that it helps them to validate and fill gaps in the data they get from suppliers. Since the CO2 database is now open to the global public, it also is an opportunity for businesses to open up dialogue with suppliers about how they might reduce their CO2 emissions. It also gives current and potential investors direct and easy access to emissions data to contribute to their decision-making about investing in energy, climate infrastructure and other areas.


Of course, there are limitations too. The dataset on its own can’t be used to estimate CO2 intensity (emissions per unit produced), so the Comparison Tool can feel a little like comparing apples and oranges when it comes to comparing the efficiency of assets. The dataset’s manufacturing sector also covers many source materials but not consumer goods. China and the world’s many consumer goods factories don’t seem to be easily searchable in the database, and I am not clear about why, other than perhaps the complexity of identifying all of these and the already huge ambition of Climate Trace.


Other interesting CO2 features


Here are some other features for looking up emissions. Experts can download datasets for free. Users can also select single or multiple years going back to 2015 and you can view 100 or 20 year estimated CO2 emissions. Experts and avid wonks can also select from greenhouse gas emissions data types: CO2, CO2e (estimated carbon dioxide equivalent with the same global warming potential as a metric ton of another greenhouse gas), CH4 (methane), and N20 (nitrous oxide). The default setting is CO2e which is most intuitive for non-experts as it tells us what the total global warming-causing emissions are without us having to do calculations of our own.


Certainly, I will be pointing students to the country and sector data when I teach and train people about climate change. As a teaching tool, this interactive data is very helpful, because it means people can explore and test for themselves what they know about CO2 emissions in a visual and hands-on way. This is how many people like to learn.


We hope you try out Climate Trace, and find ways to tailor it to your needs and interests. Why not also check your knowledge of clean energy with our test, or learn more about how to mobilize enough climate finance for the world’s transition here.


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Environment,Greenhouse Gas Emissions
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