Mapping, Calculating, and Controlling Carbon Emissions

A combination of geospatial and emerging technologies can help reduce humanity’s carbon footprint.

Break Free from Fossil Fuels

The United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report 2021, which was released on October 26, 2021, states that the new and updated climate commitments fall far short of what is needed to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement. This would leave the world on track for a global temperature rise of at least 2.7 degrees Celsius this century. The report suggests that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions dominate the overall greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a fact that was highlighted even by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report in August, 2021. However, a combination of geospatial and emerging technologies can help in mapping, calculating, and eventually controlling carbon emissions. 

Carbon footprint management solutions

In the last few years, several big companies like Microsoft, Google, Capgemini, Intelex Technologies, and others have implemented carbon footprint management solutions in their organizations. For instance, recently, HERE Technologies developed an interactive map that allows people to visualize the carbon impact of their commutes. The map tells a commuter the best possible route to his/her destination, tentative travel time, route length, and CO2 emissions. “We use the HERE API to calculate the optimal route between a given starting point and end point for the selected form of transport and then multiply the route distance by the emissions per mile (or km) provided by Our World in Data to display the estimated emissions for that trip,” the HERE Developer Relations Team told GW Prime.

Earlier this year, Google Maps announced that it will soon start directing users to routes with the lowest carbon footprint. According to reports, Google will use insights from the US Department of Energy’s National Renewal Energy Lab to build a new route model based on factors like road incline and traffic congestion.

When calculating the amount of emissions produced by each human activity, an emission factor is used. A carbon footprint calculator measures the emissions by pairing the answers to the template questions in the calculator with a corresponding emission factor

Carbon calculator

There are also companies that have developed carbon footprint calculators. In September this year, Swedish tech startup Doconomy, in partnership with United Nations Climate Change, launched an online tool to help individuals calculate their carbon footprint to understand how their everyday decisions impact the climate. When calculating the amount of emissions produced by each human activity, an emission factor is used. A carbon footprint calculator measures the emissions by pairing the answers in the calculator with a corresponding emission factor. For example, driving a car for 10 km burns about 0.8 liters of petrol. The emission factor for petrol is around 2.2 kgCO2e/liter. The emissions from those 10 km of driving are about 1.76 kgCO2e. The calculator consists of 50 questions that take about 10-15 minutes to answer. These questions are divided into four categories: home, transport, shopping, and food. Upon answering the questions, the emissions produced by an individual’s different activities are reflected on the results page.

When Doconomy initiated the project, it observed inconsistencies in the existing carbon calculators in the market. Different calculators used different methods, and many of them used old data. There were only a few calculators with global coverage, so there was no option for comparing the results from an individual in one country with those of his neighbor in another. “We hope that our method helps create a global standard for calculating people’s climate footprint that is comparable across borders and is available to any organization that wants to use it. As the next step, anyone can potentially couple the findings with our transaction impact index, Åland Index, which automatically gives you the climate footprint of your consumption based on your everyday transactions,” says Mathias Wikström, Founder and CEO, Doconomy. The company wants to provide the user with both a benchmark to put the climate footprint into context and an automatic tracking device to follow his/her individual patterns and development over time.

Carbon sequestration monitor

Another startup, Albo Climate, analyzes satellite imagery using deep learning to map, measure and monitor carbon sequestration in nature-based solutions. Ariella Charny, Chief Marketing Officer, Albo Climate, says, “We identified the bottleneck that was preventing the nature-based solutions in the carbon credit market from scaling: the measurement and verification of CO2 sequestration. So, we developed a platform that is transparent, scalable and accurate for visually monitoring carbon sequestration to streamline the carbon credit development process and enable more high impact projects to enter the market. We are driven by the goal to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, soil degradation and deforestation with innovative remote sensing technology.”

The world is now 100 months away from the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, for which it needs to decarbonize every sector — from power and transport to farming and forestry. Geospatial and emerging technologies provide a great opportunity to achieve this target.