Last reviewed 26 April 2021

An entire network of carbon-mapping satellites delivering daily data and high-resolution images combined with “green spying” by the secret service will help to lead this decade’s battle against greenhouse gas emissions.

The Carbon Mapper project aims to identify and monitor super-emitters by using shared satellite data at an unprecedented scale. Super-emitters are responsible for a disproportionate share of total emissions of global warming gases such as methane and carbon dioxide, which makes them an obvious target for tackling climate change in the coming decade.

Super-emitters have already been identified in sectors like waste-management, oil, and gas, but traditional methods of detection run into huge problems when emissions are irregular and sites require agile monitoring.

This constellation of networked satellites, furnished with imaging spectrometer technology (provided by NASA), will give climate scientists and legislative organisations a clearer picture of who and what are responsible for spikes in emissions. The Carbon Mapping project team have announced that their data will be made publicly available.

Research scientist and Carbon Mapper’s CEO, Riley Duren, outlined the scope of the project: “What we've learned is that decision support systems that focus just at the level of nation states, or countries, are necessary but not sufficient. We really need to get down to the scale of individual facilities, and even individual pieces of equipment, if we're going to have an impact across civil society.”

The Secret Intelligence Service is already monitoring large industrial countries to determine whether they are meeting their agreed carbon reduction commitments. In an interview with Times Radio, Richard Moore said MI6 has started “green spying” on the world’s biggest polluters to support what he calls the “foremost international foreign policy agenda item for this country and for the planet”.

Mr Moore, known in Whitehall as C, said: “Where people sign up to commitments on climate change, it is perhaps our job to make sure that actually what they are really doing reflects what they have signed up to”.

With only 12 years to reduce emissions, projects like these promise to help governments and data driven organisations formulate the strategies necessary to catch and legislate against super-emitters in any sector.

Two prototypes of the carbon mapping satellites are set to launch during 2023, facilitated by the Planet company, with the fully-fledged carbon-mapping network going live in 2025.