Releasing its findings Wednesday, the Washington, DC-based Center for Global Development (CDG) said that electricity generation is responsible for one quarter of the world's total CO2 emissions -- the main cause of global warming -- and U.S. power plants account for fully 25 percent of the emissions generated by the power sector worldwide.
A dozen power plants in the United States were singled out as the "worst" CO2 emitters; six of which are located in just three states -- Georgia, Texas, and Indiana. All 12 are coal-fired plants.
Based on the first-ever inventory of the world's 50,000 power stations, the Center's research shows that in the United States the biggest CO2 emitter is Southern Co., which annually releases 172 million tons into the atmosphere.
The second largest polluter is American Electric Power Company Inc., followed by Duke Energy Corporation and AES Corporation. The Center has listed all the other names on its new Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) Web site.
"CARMA makes information about power-related CO2 emissions transparent to people throughout the world," said Dr. David Wheeler, a senior researcher at the Center and leader of the team that compiled the data on power stations.
Wheeler hopes that investors, insurers, lenders, and environmental experts will use the CARMA data to encourage power companies to turn to renewable and clean energy sources, such as wind and solar.
"It is unique, one of a kind -- a world standard," said CGD president Nancy Birdsall of CARMA. "Never before has this kind of information been made available on a global scale. Not only it is likely to catalyze action to cut emissions now, it also strengthens the knowledge base for monitoring any future market-based agreement."
Birdsall may be right, as the Center's early research is already being used by environmental communities and lenders in the power sectors in large developing nations, such as Indonesia and China.
CARMA reveals that, on a per capita basis, Australia has become the world's number one carbon emitter in the power sector, although, in overall terms, the United States still remains the largest polluter.
The list of emitters shows that, on average, each individual in the United States is responsible for no less than 9 tons of emissions per year, whereas the average Australian's emissions amount to about 11 tons in the same span of time.
According to the CARMA database, populous developing nations have far lower per capita emissions than the richest countries. For example, the average Chinese citizen produces just 2 tons of CO2 emissions from power generation annually, and Indians emit only half a ton per person per year.
In terms of total CO2 output, however, China is the only country to approach the 2.8 billion tons of CO2 produced annually by the U.S. power sector.
Following China (2.7 billion tons) on the list are Russia (661 million tons); India (583 million tons); Japan (400 million tons); Germany (356 million tons); Australia (226 million tons); South Africa (222 million tons); the UK (212 million tons); and South Korea (185 million tons).
Though the United States and Australia are, in their respective categories, the world's largest emitters of CO2, both countries remain reluctant to join any international pact to agree on definite cuts in emissions. Neither has signed nor seems willing to endorse the 1997 Kyoto treaty, which is due to expire in 2012.
That, despite the fact that there is no longer any serious doubt among climate scientists that greenhouse gas emissions from human activity are altering the Earth's climate.
In fact, now there is also broad consensus that controlling emissions will require so-called "carbon pricing," a market-based system whereby carbon polluters are charged a fee and those who help clean carbon from the atmosphere reap economic benefits.
CGD's Wheeler said he wants to see the world community set up an institution to collect, verify, and publicly disclose information about emissions from all significant global carbon sources.
In his view, this would help implement a market-based system to regulate emissions from every source worldwide. "This would help reduce carbon emissions by focusing stakeholder pressure on major emitters and providing reputational rewards for clean producers."
© 2007 One World