Indian-American scientist hopeful CO2 emissions can be reined in

September 11th, 2008 - 3:29 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Sep 11 (IANS) The burning of fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas accounts for 80 percent of the rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide since pre-industrial era. But an Indian-American researcher has identified feasible scenarios that could rein in carbon dioxide emission below levels considered dangerous for the climate.

Pushker Kharecha and James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, New York, considered a wide range of fossil fuel consumption options.

When and how global oil production will peak has been debated, making anticipation about emissions from fuel burning difficult to predict and to precisely estimate its impact on climate.

They showed that it was possible to keep CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels below harmful levels as long as emissions from coal are phased out globally within the next few decades.

“This is the first paper in the scientific literature that explicitly melds the two vital issues of global peak oil production and human-induced climate change,” Kharecha said. “We’re illustrating the types of action needed to get to target carbon dioxide levels.”

CO2 is a greenhouse gas that can remain in the air for many centuries and studies have indicated that humans have already caused those levels to rise for decades by burning fossils fuels. Also, CO2 accounts for more than half of all human-caused greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Kharecha and Hansen devised five CO2 emission scenarios that span the years 1850-2100. Each scenario reflects a different estimate for the global production peak of fossil fuels, the timing of which depends on reserve size, recoverability and technology.

“Because coal is much more plentiful than oil and gas, reducing coal emissions is absolutely essential to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change brought about by atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration exceeding 450 parts per million,” Kharecha said.

“The most important mitigation strategy we recommend - a phase-out of CO2 from coal within the next few decades - is feasible using current or near-term technologies.”

The research was published in the August issue of the American Geophysical Union’s Global Biogeochemical Cycles.

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