A new study suggests that to control climate change, the Earth must go beyond cutting off carbon dioxide emissions and preventing unseen pollutants such as nitrous oxide from playing a pivotal role in global warming.
Decades of climate change worldwide have focused on CO2 emissions, the most abundant in the atmosphere. The common goal of achieving “net-zero” emissions often refers to CO2 emissions only.
Last year, more than 100 countries pledged a 30% reduction in 2030 emissions from methane, another carbon-based greenhouse gas. Most of those countries have not yet said how they will reach that deadline.
During that time, little attention was paid to other hot air pollutants, including black carbon, also called ash, absorbing radiation, refrigerated hydrofluorocarbons, and nitrous oxide. But with methane, these pollutants are responsible for about half of the heat seen today, according to a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“If we are worried about the near future … we need to look at other thermal energy other than CO2,” said study author Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington DC.
This is especially important as countries pursuing the reduction of CO2 emissions by reducing their use of fossil fuels are still considered a significant component of global warming. Using too little mineral oil will lead to less air pollution, including air sulfates that counteract climate change by exposing the sun’s rays far from the Earth.
Scientists say that these sulfates shut down at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit [0.5 degrees Celsius], which means that solid weather action could see temperatures rise for a while – unless minimal pollution is encountered.
The study found that carbon emissions alone will see the planet break 2 degrees Celsius of heat above pre-industrial temperatures by 2045.
On the other hand, the findings suggest that consolidating all pollutants could see the world begin to avoid certain temperatures in early 2030 and halve temperatures between 2030 and 2050.
“This landmark document should bring about a great deal of rethinking” of global goals, says Euan Nisbet, a meteorologist at Royal Holloway, University of London, who was not involved. “And if we do not lower the non-CO2 heat, we are cooking.”