Carbon dioxide and other air pollution that is collecting in the atmosphere like a thickening blanket, trapping the sun's heat and causing the planet to warm up. Over the past 50 years the average global temperature has increased at the fastest rate in recorded history and experts think the trend is accelerating.
While a new study showed that cutting emissions of non-carbon dioxide greenhouse gases could slow down the changes in climate that are expected in the future.
The study was conducted by National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientists and published online in Nature. Researchers found that cutting emissions of other gases, including methane and nitrous oxide, could slow down the anticipated changes in climate.
Three NOAA scientists Stephen Montzka, Ed Dlugokencky and James Butler of NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder reviewed the sources of non-carbon dioxide (CO2) greenhouse gases and explore the potential climate benefits of cutting their emissions.
“We know that recent climate change is primarily driven by carbon dioxide emitted during fossil-fuel combustion, and we know that this problem is going to be with us a long-time because carbon dioxide is so persistent in the atmosphere. But lowering emissions of greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide could lead to some rapid changes for the better,” said Montzka said.
Researchers said other greenhouse gases trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere like CO2, but they have shorter lifetimes than CO2 in the atmosphere so reducing their emissions would quickly reduce their warming influence.
Unlike CO2, cutting all long-lived non-CO2 greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent could reduce their climate warming effect substantially within a couple of decades. To stabilize the warming effect of CO2 in the atmosphere would require a decrease of about 80 percent in human-caused CO2 emissions as some of the carbon dioxide emitted today will remain in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
“The long-term necessity of cutting carbon dioxide emissions shouldn't diminish the effectiveness of short-term action. This paper shows there are other opportunities to influence the trajectory of climate change. Managing emissions of non-carbon dioxide gases is clearly an opportunity to make additional contributions,” Butler said.
Though Americans make up just 4 percent of the world's population, they produce 25 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution from fossil-fuel burning - by far the largest share of any country. The United States emits more carbon dioxide than China, India and Japan, combined.
Coal-burning power plants are the largest U.S. source of carbon dioxide pollution and they produce 2.5 billion tons every year. Meanwhile, the second largest source automobiles create nearly 1.5 billion tons of CO2 annually. Unless we curb global warming emissions average U.S. temperatures could be 3 to 9 degrees higher by the end of the century.
Meanwhile, another study released by the global energy consultancy company Ecofys and international research collaborative IEA Greenhouse Gas suggested that the coupling of biomass technologies with carbon capture and storage could result in an annual global potential of up to 10 gigatonnes of negative CO2 emissions in the year 2050.