The origin of greenhouse gas emissions

BENGALURU, India (HPD) — Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and fluorinated gases are warming the planet. What are the main human activities that generate these gases?

The main source is energy, since coal, oil and gas continue to cover many of the world’s needs. The energy that powers industries like the steel industry, the electricity that lights homes and buildings, the fuels used by cars, ships, and airplanes all give off carbon dioxide if they are not produced from renewable sources.

Agricultural practices such as deforestation and ranching account for a fifth of emissions. Waste from landfills, oil and natural gas leaks, and the production of things like cement, which generate carbon dioxide, also produce greenhouse gases.


EDITOR’S NOTE: This dispatch is part of a series on the most serious problems associated with climate change, the role of science, the impact of global warming and what is being done to deal with this issue.


Carbon dioxide accounts for three-quarters of man-made greenhouse gases. Methane, mainly derived from agriculture; Coal extraction and the management of peatlands and swamps, which naturally retain the gas, constitute approximately 16% of the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Nitrous oxide caused by agricultural practices and fluorinated gases from refrigerants are responsible for the other gases.

Some of these gases stay in the atmosphere longer than others.

It is estimated that carbon dioxide can stay in the air for 200 years, if not more. This means that carbon burning at the start of the industrial age may still be warming the planet. Methane, which is 81 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the short term, disappears in twelve years.

“Global warming is caused by an accumulation of gases in the atmosphere and their concentration,” said Shobhakar Dhakal, an academic who is one of the authors of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IGCC).

“It is important to take into account historical emissions, those that accumulate over time,” he said.

Humans continue to produce large amounts of carbon. Emissions from 2010 to 2019 were the highest of any decade in human history.

Net emissions from 1950 to 2019 were approximately 2,400 gigatons of carbon dioxide. 58% of these emerged between 1850 and 1989 –a period of 139 years–, while the remaining 42% were generated between 1990 and 2019, in just 29 years, according to the latest estimates from the GICC.

Rapid urban development is producing more and more greenhouse gases, according to the report.

“We are still in the age of fossil fuels,” said Jan Christoph Minx, another author of the IGCC report, based in Germany. “We often forget that we still haven’t been able to reverse more than 250 years of rising global emissions.”

Minx stressed that emission reductions achieved through more efficient uses or the use of sustainable energy do not compensate for the increase caused by industry, transport, agriculture and buildings, which consume a lot of energy.

“The first step is to reach a peak in emissions and enter a new era in which emissions are going to go down, in which fewer gases will be emitted each year and there will be less greenhouse effect.”


Sibi Arasu is on Twitter at @sibi123


The Associated Press’ climate and environment coverage is supported by several private foundations. The HPD is solely responsible for the content.

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