UN report recommends package of 16 measures to rapidly reduce global warming, including clean cook-stoves for developing countries, banning open burning of agricultural waste, stopping methane leaks from mines and pipelines, clean diesels and phasing out wood-burning stoves in wealthy countries.
Non-CO2 substances cause 50% of warming
About half of current man-made warming is caused by substances other than CO2, including methane (CH4), ozone (O3) and black carbon (BC).
Reducing this 50% of warming is vitally important - the graph (produced by a team of 50 scientists from the UN Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization (UNEP/WMO)) shows that we are unlikely to meet the Copenhagen limit of 2 degrees without tackling these pollutants.
The UNEP recommended “a range of compelling, and in many cases highly cost-effective options for fast action on BC, CH4 and tropospheric ozone.”
Defusing the ‘Ticking Time Bomb’
Reducing emissions of BC, CH4 and ozone precusors produces a rapid reduction in warming (dark blue line on the graph), because these pollutants cause substantial warming, but stay in the atmosphere for shorter periods of time than CO2. A reduction in BC and CH4 emissions therefore produces a big reduction in current warming which prevents future warming by slowing the melting of glaciers and polar icecaps, allowing them to continue to reflect radiation back into space.
Reducing current warming also helps keep methane locked away in permafrost and frozen undersea stores. Charles Miller, principal investigator of NASA’s Carbon in Arctic Reservoirs Vulnerability Experiment (CARVE) warned in 2013: "Permafrost soils are warming even faster than Arctic air temperatures - as much as 2.7 to 4.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 to 2.5 degrees Celsius) in just the past 30 years".
NASA’s website explains: “methane is 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide on a 100-year timescale, and 105 times more potent on a 20-year timescale. If just one percent of the permafrost carbon released over a short time period is methane, it will have the same greenhouse impact as the 99 percent that is released as carbon.”
Prof Carlos Duarte, Director of the University of WA’s Oceans Institute also warned about the devastating consequences if current warming causes substantial quantities of methane to be released from the Arctic: “The amount of greenhouse gas stored in methane hydrates in the Arctic is several times the total CO₂ release since the industrial revolution” see Methane hydrates: a volatile time bomb in the Arctic.
The report calls for immediate action to reduce these emissions to help limit global temperature rises over the next 20 years that could lead to catastrophic climate change from melting of glaciers and polar icecaps (that reflect radiation back into space) as well as methane permafrost and frozen sub-sea methane, which have been described as a "ticking time bombs" for our climate.
Because of current man-made warming (half of which is due to methane, ground-level ozone and black carbon) the Arctic is melting and emitting methane, which is 'certain to trigger further warming'. Prof Carlos Duarte, director of the Oceans Institute at the University of Western Australia, warned that the Arctic summer sea ice was melting at a rate faster than predicted by conventional climate models, and could be ice free as early as 2015. Prof Duarte's article in 'The Conversation' explains why methane hydrates are a volatile time bomb in the Arctic "The major risk is that the relatively modest human perturbation will unleash much greater forces." The amount of greenhouse gas stored in the methane hydrates is several times the total CO₂ release since the industrial revolution. NASA is investigating if a Sleeping Climate Giant is Stirring in the Arctic? the Similar sentimes are echoed by Climate Spectator: " We’ve known for a while that ‘permafrost’ was a misnomer (see Thawing permafrost feedback will turn Arctic from carbon sink to source in the 2020s). The defrosting permamelt will likely add up to 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit to total global warming by 2100."
The immediate increase in global warming from the methane, carbon monoxide and black carbon emissions of wood heaters contribute disproportionately to current warming - in the first 20 years as much as heating 20 similar houses with gas or an electric heat pump, adding to the relatively modest perturbations that could unleash much greater forces if a tipping point is reached.
The graph from the UNEP report (November 2011) shows the effect of the measures to reduce methane (CH4) and black carbon (BC) on global temperatures. Compared the purple Reference line (business as usual) the dark blue line shows a rapid reduction in global temperatures of about 0.4 degrees by 2040, complementing the measures to reduce CO2 emissions. Measures to reduce CO2 result in benefits from about 2040. By about 2070, half the reduction is due to the reductions in methane and black carbon emissions and about half due to the reduction in CO2 emissions.
Over 100 years, methane causes 34 times as much warming as the same amount of CO2, but 88 times as much over the first 20 years. Fast action could help prevent frozen methane from melting and adding to the temperature increases, so that even more methane melts, leading to even greater temperature increases and so on. This scenario of runaway climate change has been described as a point of no return, or tipping point, which cannot be reversed. Reduce methane, black carbon and ozone will reduce losses of
mountain glaciers and reduce projected warming in the Arctic over the
coming decades by as much as two thirds, helping to avoid a tipping point if methane undersea and in permafrost starts to melt.
A peer-reviewed paper in Atmospheric Pollution Research shows that, based on the latest estimates of Global Warming Potentials, over a 20 year horizon the average Australian wood heater causes more warming than heating 12 similar homes with gas (see Table 1).
Ross Garnaut recommends credits for growing trees, taxes for chopping them down
On April 14, 2011: Professor Ross Garnaut, distinguished Australian economist and author of a review on Climate Change and Policy Response to Climate Change for the Federal, State and Territory governments of Australia, gave a lecture on Climate Change in Armidale, NSW. When asked about how to account for biomass climate change policy, he argued that people who grow trees, should get credits for the carbon sequestered every year. But people who chop them down (and burn them) should pay tax on the carbon released into the atmosphere.
This sensible accounting system (which relates directly to the impact on
the atmosphere - sequester carbon and get credit; pay the tax when it
is burned) Methane should still be counted, as it
is now, but the release of the CO2 dominates. Under this accounting system, a comprehensive peer-reviewed paper, published in Atmospheric Pollution Research shows that the average Australian wood heater causes more global warming than heating up to 5 similar homes with gas or a reverse cycle airconditioner.
The Kyoto protol used a different accounting system, in which, rather than being counted directly, CO2 emissions from wood burning were accounted for by the change in biomass in the forests and other stored carbon. This works well for an entire country. However, if used by individuals, it leads to wasteful and inefficient use of a valuable resource
Example: If the owner of a forest gets a credit for the amount of carbon sequestered every year, but pays a tax when the wood it burned, it may become economic to use thinnings to make wood pellets for power stations, instead of burning coal. Without this incentive, forest owners are likely to simply burn waste wood on site, leading to much higher total greenhouse gas emissions than by using the wood as a replacement for burning coal. The same applies to domestic wood heaters. The average Australian wood heater burns 2.7 tonnes of wood, emitting about 6.7 tonnes of CO2-equivalent, compared to 1.3 tonnes of CO2 for centrally heating an entire house with floor area of 160 square metres. Australia’s annual contribution to global warming would be reduced by at least 8.7 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent (the same as removing about 21% of Australian passenger cars from the roads, or generating electricity from 5.8 million household 1 kW rooftop photovoltaic systems) if the 4.5 to 5 million tonnes of firewood currently burned in domestic wood heaters were instead used to replace coal in power stations and domestic wood heaters replaced by gas or reverse cycle air-conditioning.
Global warming from methane (CH4) emissions from domestic wood heaters
Even if CO2 emissions from are not counted, incomplete burning in enclosed heaters creates methane (CH4), carbon monoxide (CO, about 15% of carbon emissions) and black carbon smoke. According to the IPPC Fourth Assessment report (AR4), one kilogram of CH4 causes as much global warming as 25 kg CO2. CO (not covered by the Kyoto protocol) causes 1.9 times as much.
A Swedish study of enclosed wood burners used to heat water found that methane emissions can cause up to twice as much global warming as generating the same heat from an oil-fired burner.
Lab tests: new Australian heaters on low burn as bad as the Swedish model causing twice as much global warming as an oil heater
The most effective ways individuals can reduce their contribution to global warming
Pulp Fiction: The European Accounting Error That's Warming the Planet
Atmospheric Pollution Research - Australian wood heaters currently increase global warming and health costs
Stanford study shows effects of biomass burning on climate, health
A new study by Stanford Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Mark Z. Jacobson, has quantified the amount of global warming caused by biomass burning.
Jacobson said the sum of warming due to all anthropogenic greenhouse gases – CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and some others – plus the warming due to black and brown carbon will yield a planetary warming effect of 2 degrees Celsius over the 20-year period simulated by the computer. But light-colored particles – white and gray particles primarily – reflect sunlight and enhance cloudiness, causing more light to reflect.
"The cooling effect of these light-colored particles amounts to slightly more than 1 degree Celsius," said Jacobson, "so you end up with a total net warming gain of 0.9 degree Celsius or so. Of that net gain, we've calculated that biomass burning accounts for about 0.4 degree Celsius."
Sierra Club: Burning wood contributes to climate disruption - EPA-certified stoves are not the answer to woodsmoke pollution
Partnership for Policy Integrity: Is biomass “Worse than coal”? Yes, if you’re interested in reducing carbon dioxide emissions anytime in the next 40 years
Climate change: Soot's role 'underestimated' says study "Scientists say that particles from diesel engines and wood burning could be having twice as much warming effect as assessed in past estimates. They say it ranks second only to carbon dioxide as the most important climate warming agent .... This new study concludes the dark particles are having a warming effect approximately two thirds that of carbon dioxide, and greater than methane." "Reducing emissions from diesel engines and domestic wood and coal fires is a no-brainer as there are tandem health and climate benefits," said Professor Piers Forster from the University of Leeds. "If we did everything we could to reduce these emissions we could buy ourselves up to half a degree less warming, or a couple of decades of respite," he added. Prof Piers Forster is Coordinating lead author of the IPCC report chapter Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing (which sets out the scientific evidence on the changes in the atmosphere that are causing global warming).
David Attenborough and Professor Brian Cox call for Major Program to Combat Climate Change
In a 2-minute video, David Attenborough explains that our world and its wildlife are in danger because of climate change. In the 1960s, scientists overcame immense odds to put men on the moon. A similar effort is now needed to combat climate change
Climate Central Report - Pulp Fiction - The European Accounting Error That's Warming the Planet
Double global warming whammy from domestic wood heating and diesel particles.
A study in 2015 by a science team led by Los Alamos National Laboratory shows that the particulates found in urban smoke are especially prone to absorbing sunlight and having a heating effect on the planet. The new analysis demonstrates that wood burning emits organic species that coat soot particles produced by diesel combustion, creating a lens to focus sunlight and increase warming. The study also shows that the magnification is increased as the particles age and are coated with more airborne chemicals.
“This is a double whammy,” said project leader Manvendra Dubey. “The transparent organics amplify soot’s warming by lensing, and then we have this very stable brown carbon that causes additional warming. We clearly elucidate the detailed processes that makes the carbon particle much more potent warming agents and provide a framework to capture them in climate models.”
The researchers used state-of-the-art instruments in field studies near London tracking an urban plume as it moved across Europe. The observed lensing effect was successfully reproduced by theoretical calculations and laboratory measurements.
The paper also underscored the need for multiple field studies in more diverse environments with mixed carbon sources. Dubey noted that a similar study published in the journal Science in 2012 saw no enhanced light absorption in soot particles in California in the summer. He said that the key difference is that the sampled region did not have the solid wood combustion that was pervasive in the United Kingdom during wintertime.
Greenpeace - Fuelling a Biomess
• "Burning natural forest biomass – whether for electricity, heat or biofuels – is not carbon-neutral as governments and companies claim.
"Burning trees contributes to climate change for decades, as shown by the most up-to-date science, until replacement trees fully grow back
• "Compared to current coal-fired electricity plants in North America, current woody biomass power plants can emit at the smokestack up to 150% more climate disrupting CO2, 400%more lung irritating carbon monoxide, and 200% more asthma causing particulate matter to produce the same amount of energy. The CO2 emited will harm climate for decades before being captured by regrowing trees.
• "Burning boreal biomass contributes to climate change through a long carbon payback
time due to the slow regrowth of forests and the fragility of existing carbon stocks."
The introduction to this paper explains: “The
global climate is changing these years, and we are quickly
approaching expected climate tipping points (Hansen et al. 2008). A
climate tipping point is a level of forcing in the climate system
beyond which dramatic changes continue to occur without further
forcing due to the initiation of positive feedback loops (Hansen et
al. 2008; US DOT CCCEF 2009). Crossing such tipping points may lead
to irreversible climate change”
The results for eucyalypt hardwoods (see graph) were used by consultant Prof John Todd to derive an equation (CH4 = 1.495 x praticle emissions) which is used by the Australian Greenhouse Office to estimate methane from particle emissions.
For pine, the graph shows a combination of Australian and overseas results. In John Gras's Australian study the AS4103 heater burning pine had average particle emissions of 15.8 g/kg and methane emissions of 30 g/kg, equivalent to the global warming of 0.75 kg of carbon dioxide. Even a correctly-operated heater burning Amidale's average of 4 tonnes of pine per year would be expected to emit 3 tonnes of CO2-equivalent anc cause more global warming from its methane emissions than heating a similar house with gas or a reverse cycle electric heat pump.