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Greenhouse Gas

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Greenhouse gases (GHG) are human-made and naturally occurring heat-trapping gases. They are called greenhouse gases because they contribute to a “greenhouse” effect. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere allow radiation from the sun to also enter in the atmosphere where they warm the earth’s surface and then get re-radiated back into the atmosphere as heat. Greenhouse gases absorb this heat and trap it in the lower levels of the atmosphere.

The Kyoto Protocol identifies six greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorcarbons, perfluorocarbons, and sulphur hexafluoride—that contribute to global climate change.[1] However, the most significant of these gases are the ones related directly to human activity—carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. Emissions of these three gases have risen substantially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.[2]

Carbon dioxide – is emitted into the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gasoline, solid wastes and wood and wood products. Many view the carbon dioxide as the biggest contributor of global climate change. Carbon dioxide can also be removed from the atmosphere when absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle.

Methane – is emitted into the atmosphere when vegetation is burned, digested or rotten without the presence of oxygen. For example, methane emissions are releases by agricultural practices such as cattle farming, rice farming and by the decay of organic deposited in municipal sold waste landfills. The production of coal, natural gas and oil also result in methane emissions.

Nitrous oxide – is emitted into the atmosphere by the burning or combustion of fossil fuels and solid waste and by agricultural and industrial activities. In terms of its global warming potential, nitrous oxide is 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide.[3]

Fluorinated gases – are other synthetic but highly toxic greenhouse gases such as hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorcarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride, emitted from various industrial processes. Fluorinated gases are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances (CFC’s, HCFC’s and halons). Though emitted in smaller amounts into the atmosphere that carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases are referred to as High Global Warming Potential gases (High GWP gases) because of their extreme potency.[4]

[edit] Greenhouse Gas Inventories

Today the amount of greenhouse gases being emitted into the atmosphere on a per annum basis can be accounted on a state, national and global basis using greenhouse gas inventories. In the U.S.A, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develops the official inventory for greenhouse gases.[5] In Canada, Environment Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Division has been designated as the entity with the responsibility for the preparation and submission of the Canadian national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals inventory. The results then get reported to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).[6] Other countries also have agreed to submit greenhouse gas inventories to the UNFCCC as well.

The aim of keeping inventories on greenhouse gas emissions is to track those activities that result in GHG emissions and removals, and the methods being used to make the calculations. The data collected from national inventories can then be analyzed and used to create and set targets for emission reduction as well as compile global inventories of greenhouse gas emissions.

[edit] References

  1. Greenhouse Gases. David Suzuki Foundation. 17-07-09.
  2. Greenhouse gas. The Encyclopedia of Earth. 17-07-09.
  3. Greenhouse Gases. David Suzuki Foundation. 17-07-09.
  4. Greenhouse Gases. David Suzuki Foundation. 17-07-09.
  5. Climate Change - Greenhouse Gas Emissions. U.S Environmental Protection Agency. 17-07-09.
  6. Greenhouse Gas Emissions. National System. Environment Canada. 17-07-09.