I'm currently at COP24 (United Nations Climate Change Conference) in Katowice, Poland.

enter image description here

(some editing since I took a screenshot of my laptop)

I've asked some guys about $\ce{CO2}$ emissions but very few have sufficient technical knowledge.

My assumption is that they assume the data is right.

Some Google-fu:


More recent energy statistics are sourced from the UN Statistical Office, which compiles data from official national statistical publications and annual questionnaires.


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has published a five-volume set of guidelines that all the countries now use, as part of the UN Framework Convention on climate change, for estimating emissions on all greenhouse gases and it does produce uniformity across countries.

Although there are some large power plants in which they actually put measurement devices in the smoke stack and can measure the amount of CO2 that comes out, that is unusual.

About measuring $\ce{CO2}$ in the atmosphere, we have a satellite for that: https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/99/graphic-measuring-carbon-dioxide-from-space/

About air quality index - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Air_quality_index - we have a number of standards for that (shame there are multiple standards)

About new $\ce{CO2}$ emissions - what are the scientific ways to measure that?

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    $\begingroup$ Hello, and welcome to Earth Science. It isn't clear what your question is. Are you asking how to measure CO2 emissions? How to detect CO2 cheaters? Something else? (The screen shot of text doesn't help; please include your entire question as text, unless there's a truly helpful image you want to include.) $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 15, 2018 at 22:44
  • $\begingroup$ The goal of including the image - proof that I was there. I'm seeking scientific way to measure CO2 emissions - something that cannot be easily tweaked by governments who have history of harvesting organs and breaching human rights: bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k5250 $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 16, 2018 at 17:34
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Mars, we will answer your question also without any proof that you were there. Many people just ask stuff like that out of sheer curiosity, they get answers as well. As it stands now, your question has a bit strange formatting and it would help readers if you could de-spaghettify it. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 17, 2018 at 15:25

4 Answers 4


In addition to satellite measurements of carbon dioxide, there are numerous ground based stations that also measure carbon dioxide: Italy, Hawaii, Australia, just to name a few.

If you want to catch carbon dioxide emitting cheaters, a dense network of such ground based stations would be needed around the world. The measurements would need to combined with meteorological data, particularly wind directions and strength. I imagine this would also require significant computer modelling to analyze all this data in a timely manner. This would need to be operated by a totally independent organization with lots of money. This will be difficult to achieve.

Alternatively, and probably more costly would be to have a constellation of satellites in geostationary orbit around the Earth constantly measuring atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide. As with the ground based stations, the data would need to be combined with meteorological data and processed via a computer model.

Monitoring compliance will not be cheap or easy.


There is an EU programme having exactly this aim. See this press release. Monitoring anthropogenic CO2 emissions needs the combination of in-situ measurements, satellite observations and modelling of both the atmosphere and biosphere.


I'll add to Freds answer and just provide some detail about the satellite measurements:

The keyword you're looking for is "remote sensing of the atmosphere" or "remote sensing of XYZ", where XYZ is any chemical. As with many things scientific in google, you need to know the right keyword to be able to look for them, maybe that's why you didn't get convincing google results.

So as Fred already said, ground stations measure the ground concentrations of $CO_2$. For satellite observations one measures the intensity of infrared radiation $I(z)$ in a absorption band that is unique to the chemical of interest, i.e. $CO_2$, that has a laboratory-known opacity $\kappa$. Opacity is just a measure for the intransparency of a gaseous medium, also giving rise to the word 'opaque'. The background intensity $I_0$ can be determined in a non-absorbing band, or 'atmospheric window' by the same measurment.
We then know from the radiative transfer equation the following relation: $$ I(z) = I_0 \, \exp\left(-\int dz \, \rho(z) \, \kappa \right) $$ which contains the unknown density profile $\rho(z)$ in $[\rho]=\frac{kg}{m^3}$, and the integral over it over the atmospheric profile $dz$. To solve this one, requires modeling of the profile, but there's an approximation to this, which can give us the column density $\Sigma$ of a chemical, with $[\Sigma] = \frac{kg}{m^2}$, and the approximation is $$ I(z) = I_0 \, \exp\left(-\Sigma \kappa \right), $$
which is straightforward to invert and determine $\Sigma$. Then one simply plots $\Sigma$ distributed over the globe, and in this way one can find the emission regions of any chemical, or other interesting things like the Ozone hole.

So those measurements are really simple and therefore easily replicable by any satellite or lab around the globe. So if you're worried about governments interfering with this, then the answer is 'that would be obvious'.


I would suspect that it's much simpler than actually putting measuring devices in smokestacks, or using satellites. Just use economic data on fossil fuel production & imports. If X tons of coal are burned, 3.6X tons of CO2 are produced.


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