Named and shamed

For the first time, the CO2 emissions of 50,000 power plants worldwide have been compiled into a massive new database.

For the first time, the CO2 emissions of 50,000 power plants worldwide have been compiled into a massive new database called CARMA – Carbon Monitoring for Action.

The on-line database lays out exactly where the CO2 emitters are and how much of the greenhouse gas they are casting into the atmosphere. It also shows which companies own the plants.

A research team, led by David Wheeler, a senior fellow at the US Center for Global Development (CGD), constructed the enormous database to help speed the shift to less carbon-intensive power generation – with the objective of minimising global warming.

The database and its website rank individual power plants, plotting their location by latitude and longitude. The data for total power-related emissions can be displayed by cities, states or provinces, and countries. For the US, emissions data are also available for Congressional districts, counties and metro areas, making it possible for the first time to compare total power-related emissions by locality.

Rankings of the 4,000 electric power companies in the world show which are the biggest carbon polluters, globally, nationally, and at sub-national levels.

Company-level data include emissions and power generation for 2000 and 2007, as well as estimates of future emissions and power generation from planned expansions. Data will be updated regularly as facility ownership changes and new plants come online.

Power generation accounts for about one-quarter of total emissions of CO2, the main culprit in global warming. But, until now, people concerned about climate change lacked information about the emissions of particular power plants and the identities of the companies that own them.

‘CARMA makes information about power-related CO2 emissions transparent to people throughout the world,’ said Dr. Wheeler, an expert in the use of public information disclosure to reduce pollution. ‘Information leads to action. We know that this works for other forms of pollution and we believe it can work for greenhouse gas emissions, too.’

‘We expect that environmental and consumer groups and individual activists will use the CARMA data to encourage power companies to burn less coal and oil and to shift to renewable power sources, such as wind and solar,’ Dr. Wheeler added.

On a per capita basis, Australians are some of the largest CO2 emitters in the world, producing more than 11 tons of power sector CO2 emissions per person every year. Americans are not far behind at more than nine tons per person. Populous developing nations have far lower per capita emissions. For example, the average Chinese citizen produces two tons of CO2 emissions from power generation annually, and Indians emit about half of one ton per person.

Earlier research by Wheeler and his colleagues showed that highly-polluting plants in China and Indonesia responded to pressure from neighbouring communities and lenders by reducing pollution significantly after public disclosure of their emissions.