Climate Change: Global Emissions of Green House Gases

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There are growing concerns about climate change and the effect of ‘greenhouse gases’ (GHG) on the gradual increase in world temperatures over time, now commonly known as global warming. The ‘greenhouse effect’ means that ‘greenhouse gases’ such as water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorocarbons insulate the Earth by absorbing heat from the Earth’s surface and reflecting it back into the atmosphere, acting in a similar way to a thermal blanket (Houghton, 2005). Although associated in recent times with pollution and climate change, the ‘greenhouse effect’ is essential for the continuity of the Earth’s climate (Karl and Trenberth, 2003).

However, since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (from the 18th to the 19th Century), the burning of fossil fuel meant that the greenhouse effect went from simply protecting the Earth’s climate to causing an actual increase in world temperatures (Martinez, 2005; Houghton, 2005). The gaseous culprit is the seemingly innocuous CO2, although harmless in the right atmospheric proportions, it is nevertheless a very powerful insulator and heat reflector (Houghton, 2005). Since 1750, the concentration of CO2 has increased by over 30% and is now at a higher level than it has been for thousands of years (Martinez, 2005; EPA, 2007). In fact, it is argued that if no action is taken to curb these emissions, then the concentration of CO2 will rise throughout the remainder of this century to two or three times its preindustrial level (Houghton, 2005).

The Scientific evidence on global warming dates as far back as the second half of the 19th Century and the work of physicist John Tyndall and chemist Svente Arrhenius. It was particularly accelerated in the past 20...

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...add around 7 meters to the world’s sea level (Gregory et al., 2004), with extremely damaging results for mankind and the ecosystem (Houghton, 2005).

Global emissions of CO2 to the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning are approaching 7 billion tonnes of CO2 per annum and are rising rapidly (Houghton, 2005; Stern, 2006). In fact, energy related emissions are forecasted to grow by over 2% per year over the next 30 years, if the world community continue with ‘business as usual’ (Stern, 2006). However, emissions during the 21st century must be reduced to a fraction of their present levels before the century’s end in order to stabilize CO2 concentrations (Houghton, 2005; Stern, 2006). Effective responses require collective action (Stern, 2006) and global efforts are needed to develop global solutions to overcome these global problems (Houghton, 2005, Stern, 2006).

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