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Launch of the world’s first public database on fossil fuels

Developers hope the Global Fossil Fuel Registry will empower activists and investors to hold governments accountable.

Climate activists have created the world’s first inventory of fossil fuel reserves, production and emissions.

In a statement Monday, Carbon Tracker and the Global Energy Monitor said the registry was the “first fully transparent” and “public database tracking global fossil fuel production.”

The inventory, called the Global Registry of Fossils Fuels, includes data from more than 50,000 oil, gas and coal fields in 89 countries, covering 75 percent of global production. It also makes previously disparate or difficult-to-access data publicly available, including for investors, experts, and activists.

Mark Campanale, founder of Carbon Tracker, told the Associated Press news agency that he hopes the register will allow groups to hold governments accountable when they grant licenses for fossil fuel extraction, for example.

“Civil society groups need to be more focused on what governments are planning in terms of licensing both coal and oil and gas and actually questioning that licensing process,” Campanale said.

The release of the database and an accompanying analysis of the data collected have been timed to coincide with two critical international climate negotiations – the United Nations General Assembly in New York, which began on September 13, and COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh , Egypt, which will be held in November.

In their analysis of the data, Carbon Tracker and Global Energy Monitor found that the United States and Russia still have enough underground and unused fossil fuels to exhaust the world’s remaining carbon budget, a term that refers to the remaining carbon that is in use the world can emit before some warming occurs, in this case 1.5 degrees Celsius.

It also shows that these reserves would generate 3.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than any emissions produced since the Industrial Revolution.

“We already have enough recoverable fossil fuels to heat the planet. We can’t afford to use them all – or almost all of them at this point. We don’t have time to build new things the old way,” said Rob Jackson, a Stanford University climate scientist who was not involved with the database.

“I like the emphasis on transparency from fossil fuel production and reserves to specific projects. It’s a unique aspect of the job,” he said.

According to the Global Energy Monitor, the registry has compiled data from sources such as governments, state and private companies, news and media reports, NGOs and local contacts who provide first-hand information about a project.

Of the 50,000 fields included, the top source of emissions is the Ghawar oil field in Saudi Arabia, which, according to the analysis, emits about 525 million tons of carbon emissions each year. The 12 most polluting locations were all in the Gulf or Russia, she added.

“We have very little time to address the remaining carbon budget,” said Rebecca Byrnes, deputy director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, who helped create the register. “Until we measure what’s being produced, it’s incredibly difficult to measure or regulate that production,” she told AFP.

The database, she said, could also help exert pressure from investors in countries with large hydrocarbon reserves, but saw little prospect of popular pressure to turn away from fossil fuels.

“We have no illusions that the registry will lead to some kind of massive government fossil fuel regime overnight,” she said. “But it sheds light on where fossil fuel production is happening so investors and other stakeholders can hold their governments accountable.”

Eric Christian Pederson, head of responsible investments at Nordea Asset Management, told Reuters that the register could help investors better understand which assets could be at risk of becoming uneconomic or “stranded” in the low-energy transition.

“It’s a tremendous help to now have all this information at our fingertips, cross-referenced and searchable. Not least to help us align and refine our thematic engagement and stewardship,” said Pederson. “With the registry, it will be much easier to factor expected future emissions into the analysis – and thus identify and prioritize the companies at greatest risk of harboring assets that may be stranded.”

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