A first-of-its-kind database to track global fossil fuel production, inventories and emissions launches Monday to coincide with climate talks being held at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The World Register of Mineral Fuels includes data from more than 50,000 oil, gas and coal deposits in 89 countries. This covers 75% of global stocks, production and emissions and is available for public use, the first time for a collection of this size.
Until now there has been private data available for purchase and analysis of the world’s fossil fuel use and reserves. The International Energy Agency also maintains public data on oil, natural gas and coal, but focuses on demand for those fossil fuels, while this new database looks at what is yet to be burned.
The registry was developed by Carbon Tracker, a non-profit think tank that researches the impact of the energy transition on financial markets, and the Global Energy Monitor, an organization that monitors a variety of energy projects around the world.
Companies, investors and scientists already have some level of access to private fossil fuel data. Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker, said he hopes the registry will empower groups to hold governments accountable, for example, when they issue licenses to extract fossil fuels.
“Civil society groups need to focus more on what governments are planning to do in terms of licensing, both coal and oil and gas, and they’re actually starting to question that licensing process,” Campanale said. in the Associated Press.
The release of the database and the accompanying analysis of the collected data coincides with two critical rounds of climate talks at the international level — the UN General Assembly in New York starting on September 13 and COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in November. Data like those published in the registry could arm environmental and climate groups to pressure national leaders to agree to stronger policies that result in fewer carbon emissions.
And we desperately need carbon reductions, Campanale said.
In their analysis of the data, the developers found that the United States and Russia have enough fossil fuel still untapped underground to exhaust the rest of the world’s carbon budget. This is the remaining carbon that the world can afford to emit before a certain amount of warming occurs, in this case 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also shows that these reserves will produce 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than all the emissions produced since the Industrial Revolution.
“We already have enough extractable fossil fuels to cook the planet. We can’t afford to use them all — or almost any of them at this point. We’ve run out of time to build new things in old ways,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford University climate scientist who was not involved with the database.
“I like the emphasis on transparency in fossil fuel production and stocks, down to specific projects. That’s a unique aspect of the job.”
Jackson compared the global carbon budget to a bathtub.
“You can only run water so far before the bathtub overflows,” he said. When the bathtub is about to overflow, he said, governments can turn off the faucet (mitigating greenhouse gas emissions) or open the bathtub drain further (removing carbon from the atmosphere).
The database shows that we have far more carbon than we need as a global community, Campanale said, and more than enough to overflow the bathtub and flood the bathroom by Jackson’s analogy. So investors and shareholders should hold decision-makers at the world’s largest oil, gas and coal companies to account when they approve new investments in fossil fuel extraction, he said.
Campanale said the hope is the investment community, “which ultimately owns these companies,” will use the data to start questioning the investment plans of companies still planning to expand oil, gas and coal projects.
“Companies like Shell and Exxon, Chevron and their shareholders can use analytics to really start trying to push companies to move in a completely different direction.”
Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.
The Associated Press Health and Science Section is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Science Education Division. AP is solely responsible for all content.