CARMA: A Global Database of Power Plant Carbon Emissions – Kevin Ummel

Kevin UmmelMy guest on this week’s Wonkcast is Kevin Ummel, project manager Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA), a newly updated CGD database that reveals the carbon dioxide emissions, electricity production, corporate ownership, and location of more than 60,000 power plants around the world.

In the interview, we discuss why it’s worth focusing on electricity generation, how CARMA is contributing to the effort to push for action to slow climate change, and some of the ways that non-experts can use CARMA to get information about power-related carbon emissions where they live.

Kevin tells me that electricity production accounts for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas pollution. Close monitoring of these emissions and their sources will be an important part of any effort to reduce them and their impact on the environment. But emissions data is only disclosed for about 10 percent of the world’s 60,000 plants. CARMA brings together this disclosed data from numerous sources and adds estimated emissions for the remaining plants, based on information about plant and fuel type.

Among the highlights: Asian countries top the lists of most carbon emitting power plants and companies: seven of the top ten CO2-emitting power plants in the world are located in Asia, with plants in South Korea claiming four of the top six spots.

Companies located in the developing world account for seven of the top ten emitters at the firm level, with China's large, state-owned power companies accounting for five of the top seven. China, the United States, and India are the world’s top three countries for power plant emissions.

I asked Kevin whether the wide interest and enthusiasm for renewable energy is reflected in the new CARMA data. Kevin points to very modest progress: globally the carbon intensity of electricity—the amount of CO2  generated per unit of power—declined just 1.7% between 2004 and 2009. But this small improvement was swamped by a more than 15% increase in total electricity consumption over the same period.

Overall, global carbon emissions from electricity generation grew by 13.6% between 2004 and 2009.

Developed (high-income) countries saw emissions decline by 3% as declining carbon intensity (-5.5%) outpaced growth in electricity consumption (2.7%). Among the countries with declining emissions from power generation were the United States, Germany, United Kingdom and Italy.

In the developing world, a very small decline in carbon intensity (-1.3%) paled in comparison to a 34% increase in consumption, leading to a nearly 33% increase in power sector CO2 emissions between 2004 and 2009.

Listen to the Wonkcast to hear the full conversation. More information about CARMA - including maps, charts, and Dig Deeper data tool - can be found on the CARMA website.