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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Robots for tracking emissions from new oil and gas plants in the offing

Air pollution tests are currently being done in Uganda’s two biggest cities, Kampala and Gulu, by Makerere University environmental scientists. Preliminary data obtained from gadgets the scientists deployed in major markets and public offices in those cities indicate the existence of an array of pollutants circling the atmosphere daily. As the population surge, there is fear the pollution levels will only get worse without stern and immediate actions

António Guterres
UN Secretary-General, António Guterres

The insistence of African countries on developing their discovered oil and gas reserves is pushing the United Nations climate agency, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), to the limit.

The agency is thinking hard and long of new innovative ways of tracking the actual greenhouse gas inventory around the world to find long-lasting and sustainable redress for existential global warming.

The agency now says it is deploying a network of robotics, machine learning and other technologies to track and monitor new or under-reported carbon emissions from oil and gas plants worldwide in real time.

UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, says the monitoring will be conducted under an innovation under the TRACE Climate Coalition funded by the former US Vice President, Al Gore Foundation.

“The climate crisis is in front of our eyes – but also hidden in plain sight. Timely and granular data on the sources of the emissions is essential for effective redress of emission gaps, finance gaps and adaptation gaps,” he stated at the launch of the robotics project, adding that “it is impossible to manage and control what we don’t see. But we are still lacking a full picture.”

According to Guterres, many significant sources of emissions are not yet on our radar in, real-time, and it is where the TRACE artificial intelligence network of robotics will strongly come in to unearth hidden emissions from dirty fossil plants such as the oil and gas where many governments are still upscaling investments.

Uganda is seeking to develop its billions of oil reserves daily as Nigeria explores opportunities in the coal sector after exploiting oil for more than 60 years. Air pollution tests are currently being done in Uganda’s two biggest cities, Kampala and Gulu, by Makerere University environmental scientists.

Preliminary data obtained from gadgets the scientists deployed in major markets and public offices in those cities indicate the existence of an array of pollutants circling the atmosphere daily. As the population surges, there is fear the pollution levels will only get worse without stern and immediate actions.

But the UN says initiatives like Climate TRACE will usher in an era of radical transparency for emissions tracking – providing independent emissions data based primarily on direct observation of emitting activities.

“You are making it more difficult to greenwash – to be clearer – to cheat,” he stated. The robotics will be embedded in satellite systems, mobile phones and other machine learning technologies.

One of the most striking early insights from this work is the scale of oil and gas production emissions – particularly those that have not previously been reported.

Climate TRACE data show that because of underreporting of methane leaks, flaring and other activities associated with oil and gas production, emissions are many times higher than previously reported. “TRACE” stands for Tracking Real-Time Atmospheric Carbon Emissions.

Disclosure of this data should be a wake-up call to governments and the financial sector, especially those that continue to invest in and underwrite fossil fuel pollution. It is unclear when the first sets of robotics will take to the sky for the actual monitoring to commence without further delays.

The problem is even greater than we were led to believe, something which reinforces the growing call for acceleration of the phase-out of all fossil fuels. The availability of the dataset will now help more governments working to align their country’s policymaking with their national climate action plans in the planning and implementation process, as well as investors working to track private sector progress towards net zero.

The lack of authoritative scientific data and facts has been a key missing link in the struggle to guide climate action. Most datasets used are derived from emission modelling and projections against the pre-industrial era as the base year.

Most databases itself on the estimated Greenhouse gases accumulated in the atmosphere are measured in terms of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Currently, the world collectively emits around 50 billion tonnes of CO2e each year, more than 40% higher than emissions in 1990, which were around 35 billion tonnes.

Al Gore, the founder of the Climate TRACE Coalition, is quoted by a section of the media at COP27 as saying, “Of course, the world has long known what the overall amount of greenhouse gas pollution in the atmosphere is. What’s different about this (database) is the accurate apportioning of who’s responsible for what and the granularity that allows us a focus on specific emissions sources.”

Al Gore believes that the new database will help climate negotiators in their talks. TRACE is a coalition of over 50 organisations, ranging from for-profit businesses to university research labs.

Although Africa is known to contribute less than four per cent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, the continent is more vulnerable to climate disasters than other developed nations due to limitations in adaptive capacity and mitigation means.

Cognizant of this fact, 85 major insurance companies on the African continent on Wednesday, November 9, 2022, pledged to commit some $14 billion toward insurance disasters on the African continent. It is hoped that the African Climate Risk Facility will cover some 1.4 billion people living in some of the most vulnerable African communities and address the impacts of droughts and floods.

Speaking at COP27, the insurers, which include the International Childbirth Education Association (ICEA), currently working in Uganda, said, “The funds will be disbursed through African sovereigns, cities, humanitarian organisations and non-governmental organisations by 2030.”

The pledge comes as global South places the issue of reparations for “loss and damage” at the heart of COP27. From other COP meetings, wealthy nations rejected the demands for compensation of global warming-related “loss and damages” – preferring to view it as an admission of pollution guilt and climate damage liability.

Courtesy: PAMACC News Agency

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