Climate TRACE Project Aims to Identify Carbon Emissions Everywhere In Real Time

Image: USGS via Medium

By Julia Fine, ODP Contributing Writer

To comply with the Paris Climate Agreement it is crucial to actually track the emissions of greenhouse gases from places like power plants and factories. One newly announced project, Climate TRACE (Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions) Coalition, a coalition of nonprofits and tech companies backed by Al Gore, is working to identify emissions from every single specific source, Adele Peters reported in Fast Company yesterday. It will “use satellite imagery and AI to track these emissions in near real-time, even if they’re not being reported by the source.”  Data like this could help solve some vexing problems — a study out yesterday revealed that living near fracking operations that frequently engage in flaring (burning off excess gas) makes expectant parents 50% more likely to have a preterm birth.

Why This Matters: Currently, emissions data is often self-reported, and, according to Fast Company, it “can sometimes take years for the data to be gathered.” This time lag, says Gore, “makes [the data] often non-actionable.” But with “near real-time data,” you also can have accountability because governments, NGOs, investors, and activists with access to it can use it to expose polluters right away.  It could be a matter of life and death for many people (and their unborn babies) in frontline and fenceline communities who are more likely to bear the brunt of toxic emissions and climate change.

Past Successes

The team includes nonprofit WattTime, which “combines historical power plant emissions data from the EPA’s Continuous Emission Monitoring System with real-time data from the Open Access Same-Time information System used by federally regulated grid operators,” Jeff St. John reported in GTM. The result, a “real-time signal of electricity carbon intensity across different utility and grid operator regions in the U.S. and Canada,” is now employed by the state of California to steer future project directions. WattTime and another group, Climate Track, won a $1.7 million grant from Google’s AI Impact Challenge.

Future Plans

While Climate TRACE is just in its early stages, the group has high hopes for the future. In their press release they say, “Like many AI projects, the tool will continuously improve as the team adds more data and works out more sophisticated algorithms.” The team is aiming to have, according to Greentech Media, the full tool and first data report out by summer 2021.

This has the potential to have a major impact on certain industries which tend to grossly under-report their emissions. As Ned Harvey, the managing director of the Rocky Mountain Institute said, “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.”

Premature Births Due to Flaring More Prevalent Among Hispanic Than White Parents

It is well understood that living near fracking wells is hazardous — many studies have established links between fracking and preterm births, but the new study is the first to specifically investigate the health impacts of flaring — the burning off of gas emissions.  The researchers studied hospital records from 23,487 births for parents living in the rural region of Eagle Ford, Texas between 2012 and 2015 and found that parents who identified as Latinx or Hispanic were exposed to more flaring, and were more likely than White parents to see an increased risk of preterm birth.


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