And here is how it can be ensured
A French mathematician and physicist, Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier (Born in 1768–Died in 1830), is well-known for his novel contribution of Fourier series and their potential applications to problems of heat transfer among different bodies and vibrations. A fair credit also goes to his honour due to the invention of popular Fourier Transform , Fourier’s Law and lately the discovery of greenhouse effect (in 1827), which involves the process by which the presence of an atmosphere acts to raise the surface temperature of a planet.
Later, the pioneering research paper by Arrhenius in 1989, titled “On the influence of carbonic acid in the air upon the temperature of the ground”, investigated the effects of doubling the atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) content. Note that Fourier was one of the first to speculate with certainty that human activities could influence climate and its potential change, and such topics would rather be important in modern times to come.
Principally, the greenhouse effect is an energy transformation process where thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated then in all possible directions. When some part of this re-radiation process is transported back towards the earth surface and the lower atmosphere, average temperature of the earth surface is elevated above what it would be in the absence of these greenhouse gases. Generally speaking, greenhouse gases are those that can emit and absorb infrared radiations but not radiation in the visible or near visible part of the solar spectrum.
A limited greenhouse effect is principally beneficial for human life due to trapping of some energy in the atmosphere that keeps our planet mild and suitable for all living things. However, too many greenhouse gases can cause the temperature to increase out of control and strengthens the greenhouse effect strongly. Alternatively, this leads to changes in our planet that can affect our lives. The planet Venus presents one example, where the greenhouse gases are abundant in nature and this leads to enhanced average temperature at its surface that is more than 855 degrees Fahrenheit (or 457 oC).
The most popular and abundant greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere are water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), Methane (CH4), Nitrous oxide (N2O), Ozone (O3), Chlorofluorocarbon (CFCs), Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and Perfluorocarbons (PFCs). Once available in the atmosphere, these gases persist for many years and depending on the atmospheric concentration, their life time in the atmosphere and their emitting and absorbing efficiency contribute significantly to the global warming for an extended period of time. The most potent greenhouse gas in existence among others is Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) that presents 23,000 times greater global warming potential than that of Carbon dioxide. Researchers have recently evaluated that one pound of SF6 has the same global warming impact of equivalent 11 tons of Carbon dioxide. Furthermore, it is also very persistent in the atmosphere with a lifetime of almost 3,200 years.
A new disturbing environmental situation has emerged recently that deals with the discovery of a new hybrid greenhouse gas derived from PFCs and SF6 (SF5CF3) that is found to be the most powerful greenhouse gas discovered so far and its concentration is rising rapidly. Admitting the importance of hexafluoride gas in various technological applications (e.g., insulation medium in high power systems, high voltage switchgears etc.,), and with environmental concerns in mind, few environmental groups have already proposed a complete ban on SF6. Note that the global emission of these greenhouse gases is regulated by the popular Kyoto treaty where almost 189 world states (Pakistan stands Kyoto signatory since January 2005) have ratified this so far, meaning that these states have agreed to cap gas emissions according to the Kyoto Protocols. Surprisingly, Canada became the first country in the world to withdraw its membership from the Kyoto Protocol in December 2012.
Continued emission of these gases from various sources and their presence in the upper atmosphere have three major catastrophic consequences on our globe namely, environmental impacts, health impacts and economic impacts.
Environmental impact leads to an overall increase in the average temperature on this planet. Simultaneously, global warming will decrease snow, glacier coverage, and sea ice, resulting in rising sea levels, increased coastal flooding and can cause abnormally heavy rains. Note that a warmer atmosphere holds more moisture than a cooler one. Furthermore, storms and heat waves are likely to increase in the average frequency and severity. Besides this, air quality is badly affected leading to significant rise in the air pollution in big cities and that directly affects our health at large. Smog level is likely to increase as a result of increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases. This further leads to asthma and lung problems among people from rising ground level ozone.
Environmentally induced rise in temperature plus more frequent and severe extreme weather events could lead to increased risks of death from dehydration and heat stroke, and may cause injuries from intense local weather changes. A strong possibility of increased risk of respiratory and cardiovascular problems may exist as well that can lead to certain types of cancers as temperature rises and exacerbates air pollution.
A high degree of greenhouse gases can have a strong impact on agriculture sector, forestry and tourism activities due to changed weather patterns. Furthermore, damage to the state infrastructure (bridges, roads, trees, buildings etc.,) is expected from extreme weather events. Besides impacts on human health, all these factors can lead to an extra economical stress on state health and overall on social support system.
A recent research about environmental processes at Stanford University in fact shows a strong and direct correlation between increased atmospheric Carbon dioxide contents and human mortality. The study concludes that for each increase of 1 degree Celsius that’s caused by the emission of Carbon dioxide, would results in about thousand deaths each year in the United States and about 20,000 deaths globally. It would also result in a great increase in the number of incidences of asthma and other respiratory ailments as reported by science daily.
Major sources of greenhouse gas emissions contributing in various amounts globally may include power plant, road transport, deforestation, oil and gas production, fertilizers, livestock, cement production, aviation, iron and steel manufacturing, and garbage. Looking at a global scale, contribution of various greenhouse gas emission by gases are carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use is 57 %, carbon dioxide from deforestation and decay of biomass is 17 %, carbon dioxide from other sources is 3.0 %, nitrous oxide is 8 %, methane is 14 %, fluorinated gases are 1 %. Global greenhouse gas emission by sources is distributed in various sectors is as follows: transport sector is contributing 17 %, energy supply is 26 %, agriculture is 14 %, industry is 19 %, forestry is 17% and residual waste is 3 %.
A recent research report indicates annual CO2 emission per capita (i.e., metric tons of CO2 per capita) in 2009 (1990) from USA is 17.2(19.1), China is 5.3(2.2), Germany is 9.6(12), Sweden is 5.3(6.0), India is 1.4(0.8), Pakistan is 0.9(0.6), Bangladesh is 0.3(0.1) and Saudi Arabia is 16.1(13.2).
Now looking at exponential population growth trend of Pakistan, various environmental issues directly linked with the emission of greenhouse gases listed earlier, pose great threat to our economic stability and to our long term survivability at large. Note that the strong concentration of key greenhouse gases is a major outcome of daily human activities. Continuous presence of these notorious abundant gases in our living environment strengthening not only air-pollution through mix up of emitted hazardous gas contents but also signifies direct threat to our health. Hence, it is the need of the time to look into the emitting source of these gases and timely but strategic effort should be in place to reduce or completely eliminate the amount of these notorious gases so as to provide a fresh, green and clean environment for our generation to come.
Finally, some strategic but timely measures for low carbon Pakistan are proposed here that should be given the first priority for clean and green environment in Pakistan: Strategic annual national plantation scheme, annual vehicle inspection control, promoting environmentally friendly energy sources (i.e., solar, wind, biomass etc.,) for electricity production, energy saving national campaign at home and in industrial sector, better forestry management, scientific/modern irrigation methodologies, environmental awareness and its impacts on human life at educational institutions, limiting or gradually diminishing the use of coal and fluorinated gases in the industry, strict municipality control on street waste/garbage, and strict monitoring of environmental check list of new infant industry and routine annual inspection control of all major well-established industrial sectors (i.e., iron, steel, fertilizers, agriculture, chemical etc., ) in Pakistan.
While looking at environmental situation, especially in big cities of Pakistan, a legal mechanism is urgently required and should be imposed for environment protection. For this, a joint private – public partnership is the need of the time in order to force new industrialists to comply with the potential environmental check-list. Above all, we should also look into our individual lifestyle and business format that may also contribute to provide a green environment for clean Pakistan.
Dr Muhammad Nawaz is a senior scientist/researcher at ABB Corporate Research, Västerås, Sweden. He can be reached at: Muhammad.Nawaz@se.abb.com.