Global Registry of Fossil Fuels Launched

A just-launched publicly available database translates reserves and production data into greenhouse-gas emissions as CO2 equivalents. It was built using data from more than 50,000 fields in 89 countries, which covers about 75% of global reserves, production, and emissions.

World map with bubbles
A partial screenshot of selected gas combustion and precombustion data.
Global Registry of Fossil Fuels

A database for tracking the world’s fossil fuel production, reserves, and emissions launched on 19 September, coinciding with climate discussions taking place at the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Developed jointly by Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, and the Global Energy Monitor, which tracks global energy projects, the Global Registry of Fossil Fuels is the first open-source database that translates fossil fuel reserves and production data into greenhouse-gas emissions expressed in CO2 equivalents. It was built using data for more than 50,000 fields in 89 countries, which covers about 75% of global reserves, production, and emissions.

It is available for public use, a first for a collection of this size, according to Carbon Tracker, and provides an interactive database and dashboard to help governments make decisions to align their fossil fuel production with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature goal. It will also allow investors, civil society, and other stakeholders to evaluate production decisions in the context of climate policies.

Private data have been available previously for purchase to analyze global fossil fuel usage and reserves, and the International Energy Agency (IEA) maintains public data on oil, gas, and coal, but it focuses on the demand for the fuels.

By demonstrating the scale of CO2 emissions associated with each country’s national reserves and production, the registry tracks what is yet to be combusted and may help investors understand which assets may be at risk of being stranded as the energy transition evolves.

Stranded assets are now generally accepted to be those assets that at some point before the end of their economic life (based on the time of the investment decision) no longer deliver economic returns because of changes such as lower-than-anticipated demand or prices.

Carbon Tracker said for potential new investments, its research aims to prevent stranded assets “by identifying where capital expenditure may be allocated to investments which may not yield the expected returns as the world decarbonizes. Our focus is, therefore, on advancing the energy transition through the stewardship of capital, with the intention of preventing it from being wasted.”

Is the Methodology Solid and Is it the Best Approach?

Carbon Tracker, a not-for-profit, was launched in 2011 and has gained traction since then as a recognized name in emissions quantification, including citations in some OnePetro papers. It has been involved in other endeavors such as Trafigura and Palantir Technologies’ development of a platform to calculate carbon intensity in the supply chain through its involvement with the Science-Based Targets initiative.

The emissions methodology is based on the range of constants provided by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change process for combustion of fossil fuels; IEA and OPGEE data for crude oil and gas for supply chain emissions; and the database of coal mines built by Global Energy Monitor, according to the registry’s website. OPGEE is the Oil Production Greenhouse Gas Estimator, an engineering-based life-cycle assessment tool which applies to initial exploration to refinery entrance.

But is it the best approach when hydrocarbons are forecast to be needed through at least 2050 for the world’s energy requirements? The potential retreat from providing financing for continued production may have corollary effects.

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ), the umbrella organization for many climate finance initiatives, de-emphasized financed emissions in its recent guidance on financial institution net-zero transition plans: “A narrow focus on financed emissions in target setting and measurement might incentivize selecting low-emission assets and clients, as this would reduce a financial institution’s footprint quickly and in a manner for which established accounting methodologies exist. However, such an approach does not guarantee that portfolio assets and clients are aligned to a 1.5°C pathway or that emissions in the real economy are reduced. At a global level, this approach redirects capital away from high‑emitting portfolio companies and clients that require capital and other services to enable their net-zero transition.”

GFANZ highlighted the importance of financing emissions reductions, as well as supporting firms that may be carbon-intensive today but have a plan to transition to net zero.

The energy transition is rife with opinions, demands from various stakeholders, and targets that vary widely. No measurement or metric will be the definitive answer for everyone—one size does not fit all. The Global Registry may be useful as another tool to help with the understanding of the complexity of a global transition for which there are no hard and fast rules.