What is Greenhouse Gas?
Greenhouse gases, or short for GHGs, are compound gases that help in trapping heat or various longwave radiations present in the atmosphere. These gases’ presence in the atmosphere makes the Earth’s surface warmer. The shortwave radiation like sunlight is easily passing through these gases and even in the atmosphere. As soon as it was absorbed by the surface of the earth, it is being released as heat or longwave radiation. Then the heat-trapping phenomenon will occur which is known as the greenhouse effect.
These greenhouse gases produce a ‘greenhouse effect’ which helps in warming the earth’s climate. There are various types of gases – carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide, methane, and other smaller concentration trace gases like the Fluorinated gases or F-gases. These gases are important in sustaining a comfortable temperature on the Earth. If these gases were absolutely not present in the atmosphere then the average surface temperature of the Earth would be around -18 degrees celsius below.
However, when energy production started in the Industrial Revolution, it mostly relied on fossil fuels that caused a rapid increase in greenhouse gas emissions. If this will not be resolved it will surely lead to global warming and climate change. These phenomena have an array of impacts on ecological and human health, including intense weather events like storms, heatwaves, hurricanes, floods, droughts, sea-level rise, and irregular crop growth.
What is Greenhouse Gas Emission?
Greenhouse gas emission is the emission of any of various gases, esp carbon dioxide into the atmosphere of the earth, that contribute to the greenhouse effect.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), greenhouse gas emissions were 12 percent lower in 2016 as compared to GHGE in 2005, due to the large reduction in fossil fuel combustion and switching to natural gas from coal. Also, this produced a warmer winter condition during those years which reduced the need for many homes and commercial businesses to turn up the heat.
Until now researchers around the world are still working towards finding ways and methods to lower greenhouse gas emissions and minimize their effects on the environment and human health. On the other hand, scientists proposed a potential solution to the problem which is to absorb the carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and then bury it underground. In addition to that, Dina Leech, an associate professor of biological and environmental sciences at Longwood University in Virginia, said that minimizing how much carbon people put up in the atmosphere will also result in lessening the changes in temperature.
Global Emissions by Gas
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) – the primary source of carbon dioxide (CO2) is the burning of fossil fuel from natural gas, coal and oil as well as solid waste from trees and other biological materials. Certain chemical reactions like the manufacture of cement can also release carbon dioxide. Also, it can be emitted directly from human-induced influences on forestry and other land use, like agriculture land clearing, massive deforestation and degradation of soils. Furthermore, through reforestation, improvement of soils, and other soil activities, land can also eliminate CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is being discharged from the atmosphere when it was absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle process.
- Methane (CH4) – Methane emissions all came from energy use particularly burning of biomass, production and transport of natural gas, coal and oil. Methane emissions also result from livestock, other agricultural activities and waste management through decaying of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
- Nitrous oxide (N2O) – The primary source of Nitrous oxide (N2O) emission are those agricultural practices and industrial activities, like the massive use of fertilizers. The combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste, including the treatment of wastewater can also contribute to N2O emission.
- Fluorinated gases (F-gases) – Fluorinated gases (F-gases) are being emitted through various industrial processes, refrigeration, and the use of a variety of consumer products which include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Hydrofluorocarbons, sulphur hexafluoride, perfluorocarbons, and nitrogen trifluoride are all artificial and potent greenhouse gases that are being emitted from a variety of industrial processes. Sometimes fluorinated gases are being used as replacements for stratospheric ozone-depleting substances. These gases being emitted in smaller quantities only but still, they are considered as High Global Warming Potential gases because they are dominant greenhouse gases.
Carbon Dioxide Emissions
Human activities are the primary source of Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In 2017, it was recorded that human activities in the United States are the main reason why CO2 is being emitted. It was estimated that almost 81.6 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions were produced by human practices. This carbon dioxide is naturally present in the atmosphere as part of the carbon cycle process in the Earth wherein there is a natural circulation of carbon being distributed among the atmosphere, soil, oceans, plants, and animals. Due to human activities, this carbon cycle is altering by adding more CO2 to the atmosphere, as well as by influencing the ability of natural sinks, like rainforests, to extract CO2 from the atmosphere, and by influencing the soils ability to store carbon.
Although emissions of CO2 came from various natural sources, still human-related emissions are accountable for the rapid growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere ever since the industrial revolution. The main human activity that causes CO2 emission is the combustion of fossil fuels from natural gas, coal and oil for transportation purposes and energy production. Also, certain industrial processes and other agricultural practices in land-use contribute to CO2 emission.
Strategy and examples of how to reduce Carbon dioxide emission:
- Energy Efficiency – Through improving the buildings’ insulation, using more fuel-efficient vehicles in travelling and using more efficient electrical appliances can help in reducing consumption of energy, and therefore can reduce CO2 emissions.
- Energy Conservation – by simply reducing personal use of energy like turning off the lights and other electrical gadgets and appliances when not in use can lessen electricity demand. Through energy conservation, CO2 emissions can be reduced.
- Switching Fuel – using fuels with lower carbon contents and generating more energy from renewable sources are good ways to reduce carbon emissions.
- Carbon Capture and Sequestration – This set of technologies can potentially reduce emissions of CO2 coming from industrial processes, new and existing coal and gas-fired power plants, and other stationary sources. This can be done by simply capturing CO2 from the stacks of a coal-fired power plant before it penetrates the atmosphere, transporting the CO2 via pipelines, and burying the CO2 deep underground at a suitable subsurface geologic formation, like nearby abandoned oil field.
In 2017, almost 10.2 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions coming from human activities is accounted for methane (CH4). Human activities contributing to methane emission include leaks from natural gas systems and the increasing of livestock. Natural sources such as natural wetlands are also emitting Methane. Also, chemical reactions in the atmosphere and natural processes in the soil help in removing CH4 from the atmosphere. Furthermore, the lifetime of methane in the atmosphere is shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but methane is more efficient in terms of radiation trapping compared to CO2.
All in all, the relative impact of methane is more than 25 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Globally, the total CH4 emissions come from human activities is around 50 to 65 percent. Also, Methane can be emitted from energy, agriculture, industry and other waste management practices.
Sources and examples of how to reduce Methane emission:
- Industry – Industry should upgrade the equipment they’re using to produce, transport and store oil and gas to reduce leaks that can contribute to Methane emissions.
- Agriculture – By altering manure management practices and strategies in the agricultural sector, Methane emission can be reduced. As well as, modifying animal feeding practices can help in reducing emissions from enteric fermentation.
- Home and Businesses’ Waste – Landfill gas is one of the major sources of methane emissions in the United States, so controlling and regulating waste from home and other commercial business is an effective way to reduce the gas emission.
Nitrous Oxide Emissions
Just like other greenhouse gases, nitrous oxide is naturally present in the atmosphere. This gas has a variety of natural sources as well. The molecules of nitrous oxide stay in the atmosphere for about 114 years before being removed and destroyed through chemical reactions. The impact of 1 pound of nitrous oxide on warming the atmosphere is almost 300 times greater than the 1 pound of carbon dioxide.
In the year 2017, almost 5.6 percent of all greenhouse gases in the United States is accounted for Nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions which all coming from human activities. Globally, almost 40 percent of the total emissions of N2O come from human activities. The human activities that include fuel combustion, wastewater management, transportation, agricultural practices, and industrial processes are significantly contributing to the increasing amount of N2O in the atmosphere.
Sources and Examples of How Nitrous Oxide Emissions Can be Reduced
- Agriculture – the majority of N2O emissions in the United States are caused by the application of nitrogen fertilizers. The N20 Emissions can be reduced by minimizing the applications of nitrogen-based fertilizer as well as making modifications to manure management practices in farms.
- Fuel Combustion – one of the byproducts of fuel combustion is nitrous oxide, so lessening the consumption of fuel in vehicles and other secondary sources can help in reducing N20 emissions. Also, introducing pollution control technologies such as catalytic converters to reduce exhaust pollutants coming from passenger vehicles can reduce emissions of N2O, too.
- Industry – industry can emit nitrous oxide through fossil fuel combustion and to resolve this the industry should upgrade technology and some methods, for example in adipic acid production, as well as fuel switching. These are effective ways to decrease the industrial emissions of nitrous oxide.
Fluorinated Gases Emissions
Fluorinated gases (F-gases) have no natural sources and only come from human-related activities, unlike many other types of greenhouse gases. These gases are being emitted through their own utilization as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances such as refrigerants and etc. and through various kinds of industrial processes like manufacturing of aluminum and semiconductor. Most fluorinated gases are known for having a high global warming potentials (GWPs) relative to other greenhouse gases. These may be small in amount but these small atmospheric concentrations have disproportionately huge impacts on earth’s temperatures. These gases can also have long atmospheric lifetimes, in some cases, these can last for about thousands of years.
Just like any other long-lived greenhouse gases, most f-gases are well-mixed in the atmosphere and continuously spreading around the world after they are emitted. The majority of fluorinated gases are removed from the atmosphere only after being destroyed by sunlight in the far upper part of the atmosphere. Generally, fluorinated gases are the most dominant and longest-lasting type of greenhouse gases being emitted by human activities.
The four main categories of fluorinated gases include hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).
Sources and examples of how to reduce Fluorinated Gases emission:
- Substitution of Ozone-Depleting Substances in Homes and Businesses – Refrigerants being used by homes and commercial businesses can emit fluorinated gases. But this can be resolved by simply handling of these gases effectively and by using substance substitutes with minimal global warming potentials. Also by improving other technological aspects of methods and practices, the emission of fluorinated gases can be reduced.
- Industry – by adopting fluorinated gas recycling and destruction processes, industrial users of fluorinated gases can help in minimizing the emissions of F-gases. Additionally, optimizing production and replacing these f-gases with some good alternatives can also reduce emissions.
For the Industry sector, EPA provided some resources to manage and reduce the emissions of these f-gases:
- SF6 Partnership for Electric Power Systems
- Voluntary Aluminum Industrial Partnership
- The SF6 Emission Reduction Partnership for the Magnesium Industry
- The PFC Reduction/Climate Partnership for the Semiconductor Industry
- Transmission and Distribution of Electricity – When transmitting electricity through the power grid, Sulfur hexafluoride is a potent greenhouse gas that is being used for some purposes. EPA is working with the industry sector to lessen fluorinated gas emissions through the application of the SF6 Emission Reduction Partnership for Electric Power Systems. This system helps in promoting leak detection and maintenance, utilizing various recycling equipment, and providing training for the employees.
- Transportation – Transportation is also one of the sources of F-gases emissions. Vehicles are using air-conditioning systems that have refrigerants, which release hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) when there’s leakage. But leakage can be lessened by providing better system components, as well as using alternative refrigerants with lower global warming potentials. Additionally, EPA made light-duty and heavy-duty vehicle standards that are providing incentives for every manufacturer, so they can only produce vehicles with lower HFC emissions.
Global Emissions by Sector
Global greenhouse gas emissions are listed down by sectoral sources in the sections that follow (showing carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide individually, as well as collectively as total greenhouse gas terms). The data and figure below are based on UN reported figures, sourced from the EDGAR database.
- Electricity and Heat Production – according to 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions, 25 percent is allotted from electricity and heat production. The largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions comes from the burning of natural gas, coal and oil for electricity and heat purposes.
- Industry – whereas, 21 percent of the 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for the industry sector, which primarily involves on-site fossil fuels burning at facilities for energy purposes. This sector also includes emissions from metallurgical, chemical, and mineral transformation processes as well as the production of refrigeration, halocarbons and air conditioning. Furthermore, aerosols and solvents manufacturing, electrical equipment including semiconductor and electronics manufacture can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use – received 24 percent of the 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Almost greenhouse gas emissions from this sector come from agriculture, particularly in the cultivation of crops and livestock. Nitrous oxide and methane emissions mostly came from manure management like manure applied to soils and manure left on pasture, as well as enteric fermentation, synthetic fertilizers, crop residues, burning of crop residues, rice cultivation and even cultivation of organic soils and savanna. While in the forestry section, deforestation is the main source of emissions. For land use, greenhouse gas emissions came from the net conversion of forest, grassland, cropland including the burning of biomass for agriculture or other purposes. These details do not include the presence of carbon dioxide in the ecosystem that is being removed from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in dead organic matter, and soils to biomass, which contributes approximately 20 percent of emissions from this economic sector.
- Transportation – 14 percent of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions are accounted for transportation. Greenhouse gas emissions from this sector mainly include the burning of fossil fuels for domestic aviation, domestic navigation, road vehicles, rail transportation, marine transportation and other kinds of transportation. Besides, almost 95 percent of the world’s transportation energy comes from petroleum-based fuels, specifically gasoline and diesel.
- Buildings – In 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions data, 6 percent of emissions are coming from buildings. Onsite energy generation and burning fuels for heat in buildings or cooking in homes are the main cause of greenhouse gas emissions from this sector.
- Other Energy while the remaining 10 percent of 2010 global greenhouse gas emissions are allotted for other energy sectors. This source of greenhouse gas emissions is referring to all emissions coming from the energy sector which are not primarily associated with electricity or heat production, such as fuel extraction, refining, processing, and transportation.
- International bunkers – this sector involves international aviation and international navigation or shipping that also emit greenhouse gases.
- Waste: solid waste disposal, waste incineration, wastewater handling and other waste handling are also contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Other sources: fossil fuel fires, indirect nitrous oxide from non-agricultural NOx and ammonia and other anthropogenic sources can also increase emissions of greenhouse gasses.
Global Emissions by Country
In 2014, the top countries that emit carbon dioxide (CO2) were the United States, China, India, Japan, the European Union and the Russian Federation. China is the most carbon dioxide emitter obtaining 30 percent, followed by the United States gaining 15 percent, while the European Union is accounted for 9 percent, India with 7 percent, Russian Federation having 5 percent and Japan with 4 percent CO2 emission. These data also include carbon dioxide emissions from the combustion of fossil fuel, as well as gas flaring and cement manufacturing. These sources represent a large proportion of total CO2 emissions, worldwide than other greenhouse gases. While emissions coming from the land use sector is not included in the graph presentation.
Emissions and sinks related to changes in land use are not included in these estimates. However, changes in land use indicate that net global greenhouse gas emissions coming from agriculture, forestry, and other land use were about 24 percent of the total global greenhouse gas emissions.
In countries like the United States and Europe, changes in land use are almost associated with human activities that largely emit CO2, partly accounting the emissions from deforestation in other areas.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The Future
Based on Climate Action Tracker data, these are the range of potential future scenarios of global greenhouse gas emissions.
- National pledges – if all countries will achieve their current targets set enclosed by the Paris climate agreement, by 2100 the estimated average warming will be 2.6-3.2°C. This estimated temperature is just perfect for the overall Paris Agreement targets to keep warming below 2°C.
- No climate policies – based on the projected future emissions if there will be no climate policies to be implemented, this would probably result in an estimated 4.1-4.8°C warming by the year 2100.
- Current climate policies – based on the current implemented climate policies the estimated projected warming will be around 3.1-3.7°C by the end of 2100.
- 2°C and 1.5°C consistent: there are a range of emissions pathways that would be compatible with limiting average warming around 1.5°C to 2°C by 2100. This would require a significant improvement in the ambition of the current targets within the Paris Agreement. Additionally, this would also require immediate and rapid global greenhouse gas emissions reduction.
Reviews about Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Who Is Reducing Its Greenhouse Gas Emissions the Most?
Top 10 Countries by Greenhouse Gas Emissions (1850-2016) CO2 equivalent
How Can We Reduce Carbon Dioxide Emissions?
Related articles about ...
The propitious phase of reducing carbon emissions is certainly evident all around the world. Yesterday we talked about how some conservation efforts from Dubai airports helped in mitigating over 70,000 tons of carbon dioxide emanation. And, now by virtue of last year’s warmer climate in UK, power requirement from conventional sources were substantially cut down. As a favorable impact of this scope, more systems of low emission power were applied throughout the island, from sources such as gas, nuclear and renewable components.
When it comes to core figures, the trend positively alludes to long term sustainable changes. Back in 2010, UK emitted a total of 590 million tons carbon dioxide equivalent of the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. But, from the statistics of 2011, the figure has come down to 549 million tons, which is a reduction of around 7 percent.
And, to compliment this auspicious change, the state also increased its energy production from renewable and nuclear sources. For example, in the current circumstance, renewable power accounts for a significant 9.5 percent of UK’s total energy mix, which is greater than the 7.5 percent share of 2010.
However, the most astonishing change was witnessed in the power generation sector. Electricity production from renewable sources accounted for 34.8 terawatt hours, which is an increase of 35 percent from previous year. In fact, the renewable power capacity also came at around 12.2 GW, which is more than 2.9 GW from the previous year.
Now, when it boils down to a more localized impact, it is Scotland that takes the top honors for renewable power utilization. In 2011, the country had around 35 percent of its electricity generation from sustainable systems, which in fact is greater than the 31 percent set by the Scottish government. Moreover, having just 9 percent of United Kingdom’s population, Scotland admirably accounted for a whopping 40 percent of the Britain’s renewable output.