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Power Plants will Release Extra 300 Billion Tons of Carbon dioxide During Their Lifetime

Aug 27, 2014 04:11 AM EDT
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Scientists at the University of California, Irvine, and the Princeton University estimate that existing power plants around the world will spew out more than 300 billion more tons of carbon dioxide over their lifetimes.

The extra 300 billion tons of the greenhouse gas has been unaccounted for in current schemes aimed at regulating these emissions, NewsWeek reported.

Dave Hawkins, director of climate programs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Newsweek that the current schemes to tame carbon dioxide emissions are comparable to a dieter who plans on eating better, while "buying 20 gallons of rich ice cream and a new freezer."

The research shows that "a high-carbon future is being locked in by the world's capital investments," said Robert Socolow of Princeton at the Princeton University.

The team said that these "committed emissions" are growing at a rate of 4 percent per year. A power plant lasts for about 40 years, meaning that a plant built in 2012 alone can generate 19 billion tons of CO2 during their lifetime.

"Bringing down carbon emissions means retiring more fossil fuel-burning facilities than we build," said Steven Davis, assistant professor of Earth system science at UCI and the study's lead author, according to a news release. "But worldwide, we've built more coal-burning power plants in the past decade than in any previous decade, and closures of old plants aren't keeping pace with this expansion."

"Far from solving the climate change problem, we're investing heavily in technologies that make the problem worse," he added.

Power plants operating in the U.S. account for 11 percent of committed emissions while those in Europe account for 9 percent. Researchers say that committed greenhouse gas emissions in developed world are either steady or declining. The major problem of future carbon dioxide emission lies in developing nations. The team estimates that power plants in China will account for 42 percent and India will account for and 8 percent of committed future emissions.

Coal-burning stations are a major source of carbon dioxide in the power sector. Generators that use natural gas release less CO2 per unit energy than coal. The share of these plants has increased from 15 percent in 1980 to 27 percent in 2012. Researchers say that policymakers need to assess the impact made by current infrastructural projects on future climate change.

The study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters. 

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