Chapter 6: The Australian Greenhouse Challenge
GREENHOUSE SCIENCE, POLITICS AND POLICY Climate change science The greenhouse effect is a phenomenon whereby naturally occurring gases (including carbon dioxide and water vapour) in the earth’s atmosphere trap heat that would otherwise escape into space. Without the greenhouse effect, the earth would be, on average, some 33°C colder than it is today. Human activities lead to the emission of a range of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, most significantly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). The major source of carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, natural gas), while methane is produced from the digestive processes of cattle, rice cultivation, natural gas venting and waste decomposition in landfills. Nitrous oxide is produced primarily from vegetation burning, industrial emissions and the effects of agriculture on soil processes. The different greenhouse gases have different potentials to enhance the ability of the earth’s atmosphere to trap heat. In most policy discussions, greenhouse gas emissions are expressed in terms of the equivalent quantity of CO2 that would need to be emitted to cause the same amount of global warming. Global Warming Potentials (GWPs) are used to describe the potential of different gases to contribute to global warming, expressed relative to that of carbon dioxide (CO2). The GWPs of the major greenhouse gases are 21 for methane, 310 for nitrous oxide, 23 900 for sulphur hexafluoride, 140–11 700 for hydrofluorocarbons and 6500–9200 for perfluorocarbons. As greenhouse gases have...
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