Sunday, February 1, 2009

Global warming and its challenges

Concerns on global warming have rapidly increased in recent times, so I thought to pen down some of the issues, developments and my thoughts regarding it.
Key findings in UN Climate Panel Report suggest that the rise in global temperatures is due to increase in anthropogenic (human) greenhouse gas emissions. Global warming is being indicated by more than subtle changes in the environment. Various fingerprints of Global Warming have been well observed:
a.) Warmer Weather than usual
b.) Ice Melt across the globe.
c.) Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding.
The website below tracks the record breaking decrease in the Arctic Ice Cap in 2007:-
Also it is known that 25 countries contribute to 80% of the global green house gas emissions. At present the amount of CO2 emissions due to burning fuels and forests are twice as fast as can be absorbed by the plants and oceans (Ref 2).

CO2 is seen as a serious contributor to the green house effect. In the U.S., CO2 eq. emissions have increased by 14.7% since 1990 through 2006. Figure 1 shows contribution of the green house gases in the US in which CO2 contributes to most of the sum. Major CO2 emitters in the U.S. are:
1.) Electricity Generation Sector: Coal being the main contributor to CO2 emissions.
2.) Transportation Sector.
3.) Industrial Sector.
In both the above sectors a constant rise in CO2 emissions is reported ever since 1990. The U.S. Electricity generation sector sees a constant rise due to increase in the demand for electricity since 1980's and the same goes with transportation sector. Over 60% of the transportation emissions resulted from gasoline consumption. Industries contributed to 28% of CO2 emissions both by direct and in-direct combustion.

Around the globe, efforts are being taken to fight climate change. Introduction of Kyoto Protocol in 1992 is a good indication of this global effort. It is a binding treaty between the developed countries and commitment of developing countries to reduce their carbon foot print. I think that steps like these will help a great deal. A glimpse of the results is shown below in the table and it reflects a start for the action:

Also in the US, 5 states in the West and 10 in the Northeast have joined hands to fight in reducing their share of 22% emissions. The west has a good potential to harness the abundant wind energy as an alternative. Moreover, companies like British Telecom have reduced their carbon footprint by 58% since 1996. Imagine if all the companies work on same path forward...

Even though the world is making efforts limit emissions however it's not enough. We would have to change the way we think and work for a better world tomorrow. Dr. Sterman's, an MIT Sloan Professor demonstrates an interactive simulation to show how imminent the threat to climate is, even if we decrease the emissions dramatically today (Ref.4). New technologies have to be developed, ideas have to be brought to work, and today's practices have to be reinvented. So as to keep the CO2 ppm levels in between 350 to 450ppm we will have to start today. Not only new technologies like CO2 sequestration would play a key role to fight it, however, I think the most effective way to approach this problem is to increase public participation and change our organizational strategies & behaviors.

The time to act is now. Together we stand and fight to save our planet and make it more hospitable. Not only technical leads but more common man involvement is required to make a difference.


1.) Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and sinks: 1990 - 2006.


3.) UNFCCC table


5.) NASA website on climate change

1 comment:

Hasnain Khan said...

According to the Kyoto treaty the national limitations range for reducing the CO2 emissions from 8% reductions for the European Union and some others to 7% for the US, 6% for Japan, 0% for Russia, and permitted increases of 8% for Australia and 10% for Iceland.

The United States, although being a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol, has neither ratified nor withdrawn from the Protocol. The signature alone is a symbol of commitment to Kyoto Protocol, as the Protocol is not binding on the United States unless ratified. The United States was the largest emitter of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels till 2005. Therefore with out the active participation of the US Kyoto protocol would not achieve any favorable results.

In other words, China, India, and other developing countries were not included in any limitation of the Kyoto Protocol because they were not considered to be the main contributors to the greenhouse gas emissions during the pre-treaty industrialization period. However, even without the commitment to reduce according to the Kyoto target, developing countries do share the common responsibility that all countries have in reducing emissions. But with out a numerical limit placed on the emissions from the developing countries Kyoto Protocol would not be able to achieve the desired results.
And finally I would like to share some thoughts on carbon sequestration. To store carbon dioxide gas underground, it has to be compressed into liquid form. This process is extremely expensive and requires a lot of energy. The injected gas also has to be monitored constantly for leakage over long periods of time. And another disadvantage of relying on this method might slow down the search for non-polluting sources of energy.
However, taking the CO2 that has been captured from power plants and other stationary sources and storing it in deep underground geologic formations in such a way that CO2 will remain permanently stored can contribute to significant reduction of carbon dioxide from coal powered or fossil fuel powered energy generation systems. This CO2 can then be later used for Enhanced oil recovery (EOR) purposes in the oilfields to improve production. However comparing the exact figures i.e. how much reduction can CO2 sequestration achieve would be more helpful.