New Study Finds 5% of World’s Power Plants Cause 73% of Power Sector’s Emissions

Graphic by Annabel Driussi for ODP

by Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer

A new study has found a mere 5% of the world’s power plants are responsible for 73% of emissions released from energy generation.  A group of researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder analyzed 2018 data from 29,000 fossil fuel power plants in 221 countries and found the world’s top emitters: six of these plants are in China and East Asia, two are in Europe, and two are in India. The world’s “super-emitters” are all coal-powered, tend to be in the global north, and run inefficiently for the amount of energy they generate. 

Why This Matters: Electricity generation is the largest contributor to the world’s greenhouse emissions, but this study shows that immediately addressing the most egregious power plants could have an outsize impact on reducing emissions. In the United States we also know where our problem lie. The list of the biggest overall emitters is dominated by some of the biggest U.S. power companies, including North Carolina-based Duke Energy, Atlanta’s Southern Co., and American Electric Power of Columbus, Ohio.

If the highest emitting power plants were made more efficient, added new carbon captures, or changed fuels, the researchers calculate that emissions from the world’s electricity production could drop between 17% and 49%.

Sparking Action: The researchers hope this study will inspire activists and policymakers to go after their countries’ “super-emitters.” 

It could be used by climate activists to organize more protests aimed at particular plants and their parent companies,” Don Grant, sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of the paper, told Fast Company.It could be used as part of a legal strategy that seeks to hold particular plants liable for the disproportionate pollution they create. Replacing or retrofitting super polluting power plants could be the centerpiece of major infrastructure projects. For countries that are not yet ready or willing to shift to renewables, these data provide some alternative mitigation strategies.”

These changes have already begun. The world’s highest emitting power plant—a coal plant in Rogowiec, Poland— will be shut down by 2036 as a result of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups. There’s still more to do, especially since that deadline is over a decade away, and nations are struggling to meet Paris Climate Agreement goals that limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Up Next

One Cool Thing: Climate Week NYC

One Cool Thing: Climate Week NYC

This week is Climate Week NYC, an annual event hosted by The Climate Group and the United Nations, in partnership with the COP26 and the City of New York. For one week, from September 20-26, experts will be hosting panels and conversations about all things climate, and you can follow along at home via Facebook […]

Continue Reading 126 words
Carbon-Intensive Companies Refuse to Disclose Climate Impacts

Carbon-Intensive Companies Refuse to Disclose Climate Impacts

By Natasha Lasky, ODP Staff Writer A new study titled, Flying blind: The glaring absence of climate risks in financial reporting, from Carbon Tracker and the Climate Accounting Project (CAP) showed that 107 global businesses that work in high-emissions fields like oil and gas firms, construction, car manufacturers, and aviation businesses, have not been transparent […]

Continue Reading 408 words
Without Carbon Sinks, Earth Would Have Already Warmed Over 1.5 Degrees

Without Carbon Sinks, Earth Would Have Already Warmed Over 1.5 Degrees

By Amy Lupica, ODP Daily Editor New research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that without the world’s complex ecosystems and wildlife, human activity would have already pushed the global average temperature past 1.5 degrees Celsius. Findings from scientists working with Conservation International (CI) spotlight the role forests, oceans, and more […]

Continue Reading 431 words

Want the planet in your inbox?

Subscribe to the email that top lawmakers, renowned scientists, and thousands of concerned citizens turn to each morning for the latest environmental news and analysis.