Washington: Burning natural gas emits far less carbon dioxide (CO2) than coal, but switching over to this medium won't slow down climate change, claims a new study.
Tom Wigley, senior research associate at the National Centre for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), underscores how the complex and sometimes conflicting ways of fossil fuel burning affects climate.
While coal use causes warming through emission of heat-trapping CO2, it also releases large amounts of sulphates that cool the planet by blocking sunlight, the journal Climatic Change Letters reports.
The situation is further complicated by uncertainty over the quantity of methane that leaks from natural gas operations. Methane is an especially potent greenhouse gas, according to an NCAR statement.
Wigley's computer simulations indicate that a worldwide, partial shift from coal to natural gas would slightly accelerate climate change through at least 2050, even if no methane leaked from natural gas operations, and through as late as 2140 if there were substantial leaks.
After that, the greater reliance on natural gas would begin to slow down the increase in global average temperature, but only by a few tenths of a degree.
"Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem," says Wigley, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
First Published: Friday, September 09, 2011, 18:40