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  • Ryan Wittler

Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions Alone Won’t Be Enough to Stop Climate Change


A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found policies that focus solely on reducing carbon dioxide emissions won’t be enough to prevent catastrophic global warming, instead calling for strategies that simultaneously tackle other, potentially more harmful pollutants.

  • A team of scientists from Georgetown University, Texas A&M University, the University of California, Santa Barbara, and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego collaborated on the study.

Study highlights:

While carbon dioxide is the pollutant most responsible for climate change, five others – methane, hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants, black carbon soot, ozone smog, and nitrous oxide – together contribute almost as much to global warming as carbon dioxide.

  • These non-carbon dioxide pollutants only last for a short period of time in the atmosphere, but can be far more damaging, with some having heat-trapping capabilities up to 10,000 times that of carbon dioxide.

The study found adopting dual strategies that simultaneously focus on reducing carbon dioxide and these non-carbon dioxide pollutants could cut the rate of global warming in half by 2050.

  • The findings also suggest reducing the non-carbon dioxide pollutants would slow the rate of global warming faster than any other mitigation effort.

Why it matters:

The researchers say recent research has made it clear that reducing carbon dioxide emissions alone won’t be enough to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, the globally recognized guardrail beyond which the impacts of climate change are expected to become irreversible.

  • The team says the dual strategy they’re advocating for “offers the best and only hope” of remaining below the guardrail.

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