2014: Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Ozone Hole

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Global warming.

Increasing carbon dioxide emissions are believed to cause global warming. Image by Lesserland.

With the year 2014 coming to an end, here is a summary of the key developments in the emission of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), and in the dimensions of the ozone hole; two important issues for the health of our planet.

Carbon Dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas, whose concentration in the atmosphere has been increasing due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. Some scientists think this is causing an increase in the world temperature (global warming) and, at the same time, an increase in the acidity of the oceans (ocean acidification).

2014 saw a further increase of the average CO2 level in the atmosphere. In fact, for the month of April, the average CO2 concentration in the Northern Hemisphere was higher than 400 parts per million (ppm).

Although in the past CO2 levels already reached this record value, this was the first time that the CO2 concentration was higher than 400 ppm for a whole month. Moreover, in the past such high values were observed only in some locations, such as the Arctic or at Muana Loa (Hawaii), and not all over the whole Northern Hemisphere.

Other Interesting CO2 Emissions Data

In 2014 another interesting fact on CO2 emissions data was revealed.

According to the Global Carbon Project (GCP), a project which collects data and results of studies relative to CO2 emissions, for the first time China emitted more CO2 per capita than the European Union area – 7.2 tonnes per person for China vs. 6.8 tonnes per person for the EU area. Europe being overtaken by China was due to both an increase in the emissions of the Asian country, and to a decrease in the emissions of the EU countries.

Although these data are relative to 2013, they were only made public in September 2014, in a report published by the GCP. This confirmed the increasing impact that China has on global CO2 emissions.

2014: a Record Year?

According to many predictions, 2014 is likely to be a record year for global carbon dioxide emissions, with expectations that emissions will reach a new record high of 40 billion tonnes.

At present it is not possible to say if this is the case or not, as the final data for the whole of 2014 will only become available over the next few months; early studies, however, indicated such an increase in CO2 emission levels.

Greenhouse Gases: A New Start?

All data reported above seem to show that the current measures implemented to reduce CO2 emissions are not effective. In 2014, however, politicians and policy makers took important decisions on greenhouse gas mitigation strategies.

In October 2014, European leaders made a deal for all EU countries to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 %, compared to the 1990 levels, by the year 2030.

Moreover, on the 12th of November, China and the US, the two countries with the highest greenhouse gas emissions, reached an agreement some have defined as “historic.” According to this deal, the US pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 % by 2025, compared to the 2005 level. China, on the other hand, pledged to reach the peak in emissions by the year 2030, and to start reducing them afterwards.

Some people were disappointed that China did not set a definite target in the emissions reduction. It has to be noted, however, that this is the first time that the Chinese government has shown any interest and commitment to control/diminish greenhouse gas emissions.

With these deals in place, there is hope that 2014 will mark a new start in this field.

Ozone hole.

The formation of the ozone hole was caused by CFCs use. Image by NASA.

The Ozone Hole

The term “ozone hole” refers to the depletion of the ozone layer present in the upper atmosphere, and the consequent formation of a “hole.”

This is due to human activity, more specifically to the use of gaseous compounds such as chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants/propellants (CFCs). The ozone hole is an accepted and recognized phenomenon, whose dangers for humans and the environment have been extensively proven.

The hole forms in the Antarctic region from July onwards, reaching its peak around mid-September, and then reducing and eventually disappearing around November/December.

As a mitigation strategy, several countries implemented various agreements and protocols, which aimed at reducing the use of CFCs, and at eventually replacing them with different compounds. Indeed, some progress has been achieved over the years, and the dimensions of the ozone hole have slowly decreased.

2014: a Confirmation of the Trend

In the year 2014, the maximum dimensions of the ozone hole were registered on the 11th of September, with a value of 24.1 million km2. This corresponds to an area comparable to that of North America.

This value is lower than the maximum reached in the year 2000 – almost 30 million km2, indicating that the hole is not increasing.

This maximum size, however, is comparable to that observed in the years 2012 and 2013. Moreover, in 2014, the hole disappeared completely only on the 1st of December; in the years 2012 and 2013, on the contrary, the hole had already disappeared by the middle of November.

These data seem to confirm the trend observed in the last couple of years, that is a stabilization in the dimensions of the hole, but with no significant further reduction.

Researchers are trying to understand the reason of this apparent slowing down in size reduction. Future data should show if the mitigation strategies currently implemented are effective, or if different actions may be needed.

Carbon Dioxide Emissions and Ozone Layer Dimensions: Important Data

Both carbon dioxide emissions and ozone layer dimensions are crucial issues for the environment. It is therefore essential to monitor them regularly, to determine whether the measurements to control them are useful/successful.

In the year 2015, scientists will continue their checking and studies of these two phenomena, to better understand them, and hopefully help to find solutions.

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