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“Hyper-Polluting” Power Plants Responsible for Most Emissions

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Just 5 percent of all power plants globally — all of them coal-fired — are responsible for 73 percent of electricity-sector carbon emissions, according to a new study that calls for cutting emissions from “hyper-polluting” power plants.

“One of the challenges climate activists face is determining who exactly is to blame for the climate crisis,” Don Grant, a sociologist at the University of Colorado Boulder and co-author of the paper, told VICE. “Our study begins to address this problem in identifying super polluters.”

For the study, Grant and his colleagues analyzed emissions data on more than 29,000 fossil-fuel power plants in 221 countries to identify the world’s most prolific polluters. These power plants were uniformly coal-powered, highly inefficient, and concentrated in the Global North.

The highest-emitting power plant is in Rogowiec, Poland, a facility that produces 20 percent of the nation’s electricity but spewed 38 million tons of CO2 in 2018. Six of the 10 highest-emitting plants are in China and East Asia; two are in India; and two in Europe, including the Rogowiec facility.

Researchers calculated how much “super polluters” could reduce emissions by boosting their efficiency, switching to lower-carbon fuels, or adding carbon-capture technology. The found that boosting efficiency at hyper-polluting power plants would cut total global power sector emissions by 25 percent. Switching from coal to oil or gas would lower emissions by around 30 percent, while installing carbon capture technology would slash emissions nearly in half. The findings have been accepted for publication in the journal Environmental Research Letters.

“Findings suggest that instead of relying on sweeping environmental initiatives, substantial environmental progress can be made through selectively targeting nations’ hyper-polluters — the worst-of-the-worst — that are responsible for the lion’s share of their carbon pollution,” authors wrote. “As the fossil-fuel-burning energy infrastructure continues to expand and the urgency of combating climate change grows, nations will likely need to consider more expedient strategies of this sort.”

Reference: Grant D, Zelinka D, Mitova S. Reducing CO2 emissions by targeting the world’s hyper-polluting power plants. Environ Res Lett. 2021. doi: 10.1088/1748-9326/ac13f1

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