Measuring carbon, from the top-down

Making sense of carbon emissions, offsets and markets using geospatial analytics.

02 April 2024

Hendrik Hamann, IBM

How are carbon emissions calculated? For many businesses, this still happens manually, with the answers not needing to be accurate, but merely estimates. But now there’s a new way to leverage existing technology to track the carbon footprints of specific industries – satellite imagery. The famous Keeling Curve – a graph that represents the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere – is based on what we can see from space, but to understand exactly where emissions are coming from, or what industry to target, more information is needed. It comes down to the fact that you can only manage what you can measure. Companies like Climate TRACE (a coalition of scientists, activists and tech companies) are already using satellite imagery, along with big data, AI and other remote sensing technologies to monitor and report emissions around the world as they happen. They then provide this data to the public, for free.

One of the reasons an organisation like Climate TRACE can do this is because there are satellite images available to anyone with an internet connection. NASA’s Landsat gallery, for example, is made up of images from 1972 to today; it’s possible to go as deep as pinpointing images of polluters such as power plants using AI algorithms. The number of geospatial climate businesses is growing at a rapid pace. 

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