N2O cuts are no laughing matter

Eric Davidson, executive director at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Credit: Woods Hole Research Center

Eric Davidson, executive director at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Credit: Woods Hole Research Center

Also known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide (N2O) is a powerful greenhouse gas, and bringing its release under control will need the world to make very serious changes. That’s what Eric Davidson, executive director at the Woods Hole Research Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts, has found by looking at likely future N2O emissions.

Improvements in farming, industry and transportation could help reduce levels of the gas from what they might become. So too could the hard-to-swallow suggestion for many that people in the world’s richest countries halve the amount of meat they eat. But to meet the hardest target scenario to be used in an important climate report scientists are working on, we need to do all of these, Eric says. “Mitigating N2O emissions will be a huge challenge, and I’ve outlined the scope of the magnitude of change necessary,” he told Simple Climate. “They are not outside the realm of possibility, although they will be very challenging.”

In 2008, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) agreed it would produce its fifth assessment report looking at global warming in detail by October 2014. To try and predict what will happen in the future, the scientists involved have drawn up four “representative concentration pathway” (RCP) scenarios that humanity could follow. These are based on a range of values for how much the atmosphere would be heating up in 2100. But there has been little work so far to see what will need to happen to reach the greenhouse gas levels these scenarios imply. Read the rest of this entry »

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