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Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA)

center for global development logo


Fighting climate change by lowering global carbon dioxide emissions depends as much upon individuals as it does on governments. However, those individuals, whether they be customers, investors, managers, or policy makers, frequently find that making the correct choices to reduce carbon footprints is a difficult task, one made more complicated by a lack of available information about the exact carbon cost of each consumer decision. How can a customer, for example, decide which energy provider has a lower environmental cost when this information is often difficult to find and not publicly accessible? In order to help bridge this vital information gap, the Confronting Climate Change Initiative, part of a Washington, DC-based think tank called the Center for International Development, managed and funded the website between the years of 2000 and 2018.


Carbon Monitoring for Action: Objectives

The purpose of CARMA, whose initials stand for Carbon Monitoring for Action, was to focus on the major sources of carbon emissions, namely electricity generation, a sector that produces around 40% of all US CO2 output. This was achieved by providing users with access to a global database of CO2 emissions for more than 60,000 individual power plants and more than 20,000 energy suppliers, located in regions all around the world, with the stated goal of providing individuals with the necessary information to make greener choices about their energy provider.

map of carbon producing power plants


Compiling such a large amount of data, published (or in many cases, not published at all) by a wide range of bodies is a gargantuan task. In order to accomplish it, the CARMA database, the only such available at the time of its inception, contained data gathered from a variety of sources, ranging from governmental agencies such the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy and the Indian government, to major international bodies such as the European Union and, in the case of nuclear plants, the International Atomic Energy Association.

However, many of the world’s countries, including some of the largest polluters, do not make such detailed publicly disclosed data available. For this reason, in order to fulfil its stated goal of providing information for every region in the world, the CARMA database also used figures obtained by means of sophisticated statistical modelling techniques to provide accurate estimates of power plants for which no public data was available.

These models were based on known performance factors from other power plants whose carbon emissions were measurable, combined with the engineering specifications of the plants in question when these were published. Together, these allowed estimates to be made within a sufficient range of accuracy for the purposes of the database.

Information was gathered for the years 2004 and 2009, along with estimates of future production (from the latter date onwards). These future predictions, a unique feature of the CARMA database, were based on statistical modelling using the engineering specifications of individual plants as a guide and took into account such plans to construct new energy generation facilities or expand existing ones as were current in the year 2009.

list of carbon producing power plants

This information could be searched geographically, with the aid of an interactive map and with the database recognising over 13,000 distinct geographical regions including US metro areas, individual states and provinces of countries such as Germany or India with recognised federal subdivisions, down to the level of individual cities. This was combined with information on individual operating companies, allowing users to make consumer choices that were relevant to their own local situation.

Website and Data Accessibility

To increase the accessibility and user-friendliness of the website, information was also available in graphical form via an interactive map, with power facilities colour-coded according to their degree of environmental impact. Lists of the most polluting companies, countries, regions and individual plants were also available. Due to its focus on carbon production, the data set focused solely on CO2 emissions and energy output, treating hydroelectric and nuclear plants as essentially equivalent to other low-carbon energy production facilities, despite their relatively high environmental impact.

As well as mapping tools, the CARMA dataset was also available for free download to allow researchers and citizens to conduct their own more detailed analyses. CARMA’s global reach, complex statistical modelling, and degree of public access to its data, made it a useful tool for citizens wishing to take the fight against climate change into their own hands by making informed decisions about their energy providers based on scientific data.

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