Treaty to limit CO2 should be followed by similar limits on other greenhouse pollutants

Oct 22, 2009

When world leaders meet in Copenhagen in December to hash out a treaty limiting carbon dioxide emissions, they should begin planning a future summit to address other pollutants - from soot to ozone - that don't remain in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, but nevertheless are major contributors to global warming.

That is the view of University of California, Berkeley, researcher Stacy C. Jackson, who presents her arguments in a policy piece appearing in the Oct. 23 issue of the journal Science.

Jackson, 37, a Ph.D. student in the Energy & Resources Group at UC Berkeley, researched the effects of short-lived pollutants like that stay in the atmosphere from days to weeks; medium-lived pollutants like methane that may remain airborne for a decade; and the long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide, which will plague the planet for centuries. Over a 20-year window, the short- and medium-lived emissions make up over half the human contributions to global warming, Jackson said.

"We know we have a long-term problem and that we need to reduce CO2 aggressively, but scientists are becoming concerned about whether there are going to be more climate changes in the near term than we previously believed," said Jackson. "Because we know these other pollutants play a big role, it would be to our benefit to set up the institutional framework now so that we can act quickly to mitigate the changes happening in the near term."

Pollutants like soot and are well-known greenhouse pollutants, but scientists and policy makers have focused most of their attention on the gorillas in the room: carbon dioxide and, to a lesser extent, methane - pollutants that have had the biggest historical impact on global warming. CO2's long-term effects, in particular, have alarmed scientists and the public, since the level of CO2 in the atmosphere now - 386 parts per million - is already higher than it has been in the past 100,000 years, and continues to rise.

Numerous recent studies, however, have found the impacts of global warming accelerating, with faster melting of glaciers and sea ice and higher temperatures than predicted by climate models. Climatologist James Hansen of NASA published a paper last year in which he calculated that the atmospheric CO2 levels today are similar to what they were when the planet was ice-free 100,000 years ago.

In addition, biologists are finding that plants and animals are already affected by , at lower temperatures than initially projected.

"All the things we have been observing - changes in sea ice, temperature and impacts - plus what we are learning about abrupt climate changes in the past, suggest that the near term is of concern, in addition to the long term," Jackson said. "Short- and medium-lived pollutants account for half of our near-term impact. They are not a secondary source."

Jackson urges policymakers, first of all, to make aggressive reduction targets for and other long-lived pollutants. Then, however, they must re-categorize methane as a medium-lived , not a long-lived one, and establish a new ad hoc working group to craft a treaty for short- and medium-lived pollutants.

"We need two separate treaties," she said. "A treaty on short- and medium-lived pollutants should have a dynamic framework, because as we learn more, it will become obvious whether it's necessary to accelerate near-term mitigation efforts to influence near-term climate."

She acknowledged the complexity of the problem, noting that different components of soot, for example, have opposing impacts. The black carbon in soot has a warming effect, while the organic carbon has a cooling effect. Sulfate aerosols the cause of acid rain have a cooling effect that varies geographically based on the atmospheric availability of reactants and the presence of clouds or ice.

In addition, "while long-lived pollutants like CO2 will mix well around the planet during their lifetime in the , short-lived pollutants, like particulates and aerosols, aren't going to mix because they can't travel far enough in the weeks or months they're airborne," said John Harte, UC Berkeley professor of energy and resources. "So, geographic issues become much more important for short-lived versus long-lived pollutants."

Because of this complexity, work needs to start now on a framework to regulate them, Jackson said.

"Nobody knows whether we have crossed a threshold yet where we've reached a point of no return," Jackson said. "We are still learning whether there are thresholds and where they are, but the concern is that we are approaching what could be a threshold."

"Depending on what we do over the coming 20 years, we really can have an influence on what the future of our planet will look like," Harte said.

Source: University of California - Berkeley (news : web)

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User comments : 5

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defunctdiety
3.2 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2009
Okay, time for an injection of some facts.

First, when they say "soot" they are trying to say particulate matter. Any combustion source in existence today that has the potential to emit significant levels of particulate are already equipped with baghouses or electrostatic precipitators or scrubbers ranging from 95 to 99% control. It is not reasonable or even possible to expect better particulate control than is already implemented today.

Next, methane. Any method implemented to control methane is simply going to result in the oxidation of methane, and any other volatile organics in the effluent. This means it turns them into CO2 and H2O, the top two GHGs. Not to mention any source that has the potential to emit significant VOCs is already equipped with catalysts or flares that are required to reduce VOC emissions from 72% to 95% but usually have DREs more like 99.9%. Let's not forget with ozone (O3), sure it retains heat but it also shields us from the deadly radiation of space.

TBC
defunctdiety
3 / 5 (6) Oct 22, 2009
N2O (nitrous) is a rare emission in combustion sources, which is usually only going to be found in sources (probably natural gas fired) that use ammonia injection to control the emissions of oxides of nitrogen and as general selective catalytic reduction. It's a result of controlling more dangerous pollutants, things that will actually poison us instead of just maybe warm us.

Most nitrous in the atmosphere will come from the use of fertilizer, so do they want farmers to stop fertilizing?

In short, these people need to take reality and practicality into account when they make their claims for needing more regulation.

Things are beginning to get absurd. This is why only 36% of people polled these days believe there is hard evidence to support AGW, and those 36% believe this only because this is what they've been told and they trust "scientists" implicitly. People need to know that AGW proponents are not representing reality, or the best interests of real People.
jonnyboy
2 / 5 (8) Oct 23, 2009
more "science" from the same folks that brought us Al Gore and his morons
Mavin
Oct 23, 2009
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
AAhhzz
2.7 / 5 (7) Oct 23, 2009
One would hope that the people would are so worked up about global warming would control thier own carbon emissions first...sort of like this

http://www.lab-in...z048.jpg
Shootist
2.3 / 5 (9) Oct 23, 2009
Treaty to limit CO2 should be followed by similar limits on other greenhouse pollutants

Treaty to limit CO2 should be quashed; for its bad science, over-reaching socialist agenda and wealth re-distribution. Evil bastards.

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