Global Climate Change and Climate Protection

Last Updated: 12 Apr 2021
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From September 6 to 10, 1997, the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) held a Cities for Climate Protection (CCP) Campaign - U.S. workshop in Atlanta, sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, The City of Atlanta, The Climate Institute, and The Turner Foundation. ICLEI is the international environmental agency for local governments. It believes from concrete experience that local actions can have a global impact. ICLEI was established in 1990 through a partnership of the United Nations Environment Programme, the International Union of Local Authorities (IULA), and the Center for Innovative Diplomacy. ICLEI's World Secretariat is in Toronto. ICLEI also has offices in Freiburg, Tokyo, Harare, Santiago, and Berkeley.

ICLEI's purpose and mission are to:

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  • serve as an international clearinghouse on sustainable development and environmental protection policies, programs, and techniques being implemented at the local level by local institutions;
  • initiate joint projects or campaigns among groups of local governments to research and develop new approaches to address pressing environmental and development problems;
  • organize training programs and publish reports and technical manuals on state of the art environmental management practices;
  • serve as an advocate for local government before national and international governments, agencies, and organizations to increase their understanding and support of local environmental protection and sustainable development activities.

By ICLEI's 10th anniversary in the year 2000, ICLEI aims to establish a global system to achieve, measure, and report on tangible improvements in the global environment through the cumulative local performance improvements of ICLEI's member municipalities. ICLEI members include more than 265 local governments of all sizes from around the world from 50 countries, all of whom share a common purpose: to take a leadership role in identifying and implementing innovative environmental management practices at the local level. ICLEI's CCP campaign started in 1990 and consists of about 200 cities from Abu Dhabi to West Hollywood. The cities that sign on to the CCP campaign commit to: 1) estimate their 1990 carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent (CO2e) emissions, 2) develop a CCP plan to reduce their CO2e emissions by 20 percent of their 1990 emissions by the year 2020, 3) demonstrate progress towards reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, and 4) update and implement their plan.

Others are becoming involved in the CCP campaign. On September 19, 1997, Ted Turner of Turner Communications announced he would contribute $1,000,000,000 to the United Nations to address the issue of global climate change. On October 6, 1997, President Clinton held a White House Summit on Global Warming to help develop U.S. policy for the planning meetings in Bonn on October 20, 1997, and for the International Meeting on Global Climate Change to be held in Kyoto in December, 1997.

Climate change is now recognized as a serious global issue by thousands of environmental professionals, atmospheric scientists, government officials, medical doctors, and health and property insurance companies. Climate change is serious because its adverse human health and physical effects, if unabated, will have vast and undesirable social, economic and political impacts. Ross Gelp, prize-winning author of The Heat Is On: The High Stakes Battle Over Earth's Threatened Climate (1997. Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., New York) was the featured dinner speaker at the CCP workshop.

Cause and Effects of Industrialized Climate Change

Because of industrialization, the earth's surface and atmosphere is heating up to our peril as a species. The key issues in global climate change are expanding industrialization which burns carbon fuels in power plants and internal combustion vehicle engines to generate greenhouse gases beyond the capacity of the oceans and the biosphere to absorb the excess gases. These excess gases capture heat from the sun and cause global warming, increase air pollution, induce glacial and iceberg melting, sea level rising, unstable and more extreme and long-lived weather conditions, and shifting, prolonging and intensifying floods, droughts, hurricanes and El Ni�o episodes.

These effects lead to increases in respiratory diseases, habitat alterations, destruction of forests and wetlands, agricultural shifts, coastal erosion and flooding, societal dislocations and unrest, and perhaps, the demise of democracy as governments become more authoritarian to combat the emergencies induced by climate change. What lies ahead if the developed world cannot reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and the developing world seeks to industrialize and increase its greenhouse gas emissions?

Greenhouse Gases, Their Properties, Sources and Emission Rates

The major greenhouse gases are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), halocarbon and related compounds (fluorocarbons CFC-11, CFC-12, CFC-113; hydrocholorofluorocarbons HCFC-22; hydrofluorocarbons HFCs; perfluorocarbons PFCs; and sulfur hexafluoride SF6), and the criteria pollutants -- carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and non-CH4 volatile organic compounds (NMVOCs).

CO2 has a carbon equivalency of 0.273, CH4 has a higher carbon equivalency of 5.73, and N2O has an even higher carbon equivalency of 83.2. This means that CH4 has about 21 times the warming effect of CO2 and N2O has about 305 times the warming effect of CO2. SF6 has a very high global warming potential (GWP) of 23,900 times the effects of CO2.

The currently estimated 1996 U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions are about 1,753 metric tons of carbon or carbon equivalent, or an increase of 8.3 percent over 1990 (EIA 1997). About 98.5 percent of U.S. human-made or anthropogenic CO2 emissions are caused by the combustion of fossil fuels to provide energy; U.S. anthropogenic CH4 emissions are due primarily to production and transportation of coal, natural gas and oil; anaerobic decomposition of municipal waste in landfills and raising livestock. N2O emissions are primarily from agricultural soils associated with fertilizer use, industrial process emissions, and emissions from fossil fuel combustion.

Carbon dioxide. CO2 emissions are by far the largest percentage of greenhouse gas. Caused primarily by the combustion of fossil fuels to provide energy from energy plants and internal combustion engines, anthropogenic CO2 emissions are also produced by forest, agricultural, and other fires. At 1,496 metric tons of carbon or carbon equivalent, about 85.3 percent of the currently estimated 1996 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are as CO2, based on GWP, or an increase of 8.8 percent over 1990 (EIA 1997).

Methane. CH4 emissions are dwarfed by CO2 emissions (a ratio of 1 ton of CH4 for every 175 tons of CO2). Because the heat-trapping capacity of CH4 is about 21 times that of CO2, the overall effect of CH4 on global climate is significant. There is, however, substantial uncertainty in estimates of emissions from most U.S. CH4 sources, ranging from 25 percent to as high as several hundred percent. CH4 emission trends from each source tend to be more reliable than their overall estimated magnitude. At 177 metric tons of carbon or carbon equivalent, about 10.0 percent of the currently estimated 1996 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are as CH4, based on GWP, or a decrease of 2.2 percent over 1990.

Nitrous oxide. Compared to CO2 or CH4, N2O is released in small quantities from anthropogenic sources; however, N2O's 100 - year global warming potential (GWP) of 305 makes it a significant contributor to atmospheric warming. Although there are many known natural and anthropogenic sources, N2O emissions have been difficult to quantify on a global scale because it has been one of the least-studied greenhouse gases. The largest source of anthropogenic N2O emissions is energy use, which includes mobile source combustion from passenger cars, buses, motorcycles, and trucks, and stationary source combustion from residential, industrial, and electric utility energy use.

The second-largest source of N2O emissions is agriculture, primarily fertilizer application and a small amount released from the burning of crop residues. However, there is substantial uncertainty and debate regarding the emissions implications of use of N-based fertilizers. Models used for estimation are based on limited sources of experimental data. Another important source of N2O emissions is industrial production of adipic acid and nitric acid. At 38 metric tons of carbon or carbon equivalent, about 2.2 percent of the currently estimated 1996 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are as N2O, based on GWP, or no net change over 1990.

Halocarbon and Related Compounds. CFCs, HCFCs, HFCs, PFCs and other compounds that act as greenhouse gases are emitted from their use as refrigerants in cooling equipment, as solvents, or as blowing agents, or from fugitive emissions from industrial processes; these halocarbon compounds are being phased out under pollution prevention measures because they damage the stratospheric ozone layer. The best known class of synthetic greenhouse chemicals are the CFCs, particularly CFC-12 (trade name Freon -12). CFCs have many desirable features: they are relatively simple to manufacture, inert, nontoxic, and nonflammable. Because CFCs are chemically stable, they remain in the atmosphere for hundreds or thousands of years.

These synthetic molecules absorb reflected infrared radiation at wavelengths that would otherwise be largely unabsorbed, and they are potent greenhouse gases, with a direct radiative forcing effect hundreds or thousands of times greater than that of CO2. Though molecule for molecule, CFCs absorb many hundreds of times more infrared radiation than carbon dioxide, their net warming effect is reduced because of their effect on ozone. Ozone (O3), beneficial in the stratosphere for its ability to absorb harmful ultraviolet radiation, is also a potent greenhouse gas. While the direct effect of CFCs is a warming potential far greater than that of CO2, their indirect effect on ozone reduces their net radiative forcing effects by half. SF6 is used as an insulator for circuit breakers switchgear and other electrical equipment; it also occurs as a fugitive emission from certain semiconductor manufacturing processes. At 42 metric tons of carbon or carbon equivalent, about 2.4 percent of the currently estimated 1996 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are as HFCs, PFCs and SF6, based on GWP, or an increase of 68 percent over 1990.

Criteria Pollutants. CO, NOx, and NMVOCs are reactive gases, which usually decay quickly in the atmosphere. Most CO emissions result from incomplete oxidation during combustion of fuels used for transportation. NOx emissions are related to air-fuel mixes and combustion temperatures during the burning of fuels evenly split between transportation and stationary sources. NMVOCs are a main component in the chemical and physical atmospheric reactions that form ozone and other photochemical oxidants. About half of the NMVOC emissions come from solvent-related industrial processes and most of the remaining emissions are from combustion of transportation fuels.

Climate Protection Strategies

The remedial strategies all have unintended consequences. These strategies are:

  • greenhouse gas source reduction
  • ocean modification to absorb more greenhouse gases
  • forest, wetland, and agricultural practices to sequester more gaseous CO2

The most likely success strategy is greenhouse gas source reduction.

Greenhouse gas source reduction activities include:

  • Replace greenhouse gas generating activities such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas burning power plants with non-CO2 emitting power plants like nuclear, solar, wind, wave, hydraulic, and geothermal.
  • Reduce the amount of paper and other carbon-rich discards that go to landfills, which generate CH4 by source reduction, reuse, recycling, and composting and/or mulching of organic discards.
  • Control industrial plant greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Prevent and control forest and agricultural fires that generate CO2.
  • Replace internal combustion vehicle, tools, and power sources with electrical, compressed natural gas , and hydrogen sources.
  • Recover greenhouse gases, such as from landfills, for reuse and treatment prior to release to the atmosphere.
  • Improve the greenhouse gas sequestering mechanisms of the vegetative cover by restoring and enhancing landscape trees, forests, wetlands, gardens, and agricultural practices.

Do We Have a Reason to Be Optimistic?

We have reason to be cautiously optimistic about climate protection. Human history is full of examples where we learned from our mistakes, misfortunes, or undesirable trends. The agricultural revolution of the 18th century, the discovery of bacteria in the 19th, and the invention of vaccines in the 20th are some of the examples of what humanity can achieve when challenged with a seemingly unsolvable problem. True, we must overcome several hurdles, the resistance of political and profit-centered structures which have short-term benefits in an economy based on carbon fuels.

But these barriers can be overcome in the 21st century through education and promotion, successful cases, and the inherently superior economics of a sustainable and renewable energy and resource based society. We will need political leadership at all levels to make it happen.

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Global Climate Change and Climate Protection. (2017, Sep 02). Retrieved from

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