A first-of-its-kind database to track global fossil fuel production, inventories and emissions launches Monday to coincide with climate talks taking place at the United Nations General Assembly in New York.
The Global Fossil Fuel Registry includes data from more than 50,000 oil, gas and coal deposits in 89 countries. It covers 75% of the world’s reserves, production and emissions and is available for public use, the first time for a collection of this size.
Until now, private data has been available for purchase, as well as analysis of the world’s fossil fuel use and reserves. The International Energy Agency also maintains public data on oil, gas and coal, but it focuses on demand for those fossil fuels, while this new database looks at what has not yet been burned.
The registry was developed by Carbon Tracker, a non-profit think tank that studies the impact of the energy transition on financial markets, and Global Energy Monitor, an organization that tracks various energy projects around the world.
Corporations, investors and scientists already have some level of access to private fossil fuel data. Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker, said he hoped the registry would enable 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 actually start challenging the licensing process,” Campanale told The Associated Press.
The release of the database and the accompanying analysis of the collected data coincides with two important series of climate negotiations at the international level – the UN General Assembly in New York, which begins on September 13, and COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, in November. Data like those published in the registry can arm environmental and climate groups to pressure national leaders to agree to stronger policies that will reduce carbon emissions.
And we are in dire need of carbon reduction, Campanale said.
When analyzing the data, the developers found that the US and Russia have enough fossil fuels not yet used underground to exhaust the world’s remaining 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 generate 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all the emissions produced since the Industrial Revolution.
“We already have enough extractable fossil fuels to cook the planet. At the moment, we can’t afford to use all of them—or almost any of them. We don’t have enough time to build new things in old ways,” said Rob Jackson, a climate scientist at Stanford University who was not involved with the database.
“I like the focus on transparency of fossil fuel production and reserves, right down to specific projects. That’s a unique aspect of the job.”
Jackson compared the global carbon budget to a bathroom.
“You can only run the water so long before the tub overflows,” he said. According to him, when the bathtub is almost full, governments can turn off the faucet (reducing greenhouse gas emissions) or open the bathtub drains more (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 in Jackson’s analogy. Therefore, investors and shareholders must hold decision-makers at the world’s largest oil, gas and coal companies accountable when they approve new investments in fossil fuel extraction, he said.
Campanale said he hopes the investment community “that ends up owning these corporations” will use the data to start challenging 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 the analysis to really start trying to push companies to move in a completely different direction.”
Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley.
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