Nitrous Oxide Atmosphere Double 2050
November 22, 2013

Nitrous Oxide In Atmosphere Could Double By 2050, Says UN Report

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

While atmospheric nitrous oxide can currently only be found in trace amounts, a new report from United Nations' Environment Program said that emissions of the greenhouse gas could almost double by 2050 if preventative steps aren’t taken.

Nitrous oxide is the third most potent greenhouse gas, after carbon dioxide and methane. It is emitted into the atmosphere through human activities such as farming, the burning of fossil fuels, waste water management and industrial processes. Emissions of the gas currently stand at about 5.8 million tons a year.

The report noted that nitrous oxide could weaken efforts to prevent ozone layer depletion. Found high above the Earth, the ozone layer protects life from the sun's deadlier radiation and reports have said it is beginning to recover from depletion over the past couple of decades thanks to bans on chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chemicals.

"We need all hands on deck to combat the serious and significant increases in N2O levels in the atmosphere,” said UNEP director Achim Steiner. "UNEP is working on a range of fronts to support the international efforts under the UN Climate Convention, from catalyzing the uptake of renewable energies and energy efficiency to adaptation projects in many parts of the globe."

"In addition UNEP is working through a myriad of voluntary pathways from accelerating the policy switches towards an inclusive, resource-efficient green economy to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to reduce emissions of climate pollutants such as hydroflourocarbons (HFCs), methane and black carbon," Steiner added.

The UNEP report indicated that the more efficient use of fertilizers, less meat consumption, and improved waste water treatment could lead to a cut in emissions by about 2 million tons annually by 2020. The financial benefits from reducing emissions, such as increased agricultural productivity, improved human health and reduced environmental degradation could be worth over $160 billion per year, UNEP said.

The organization cited cost, infrastructure and insufficient technology as barriers to implementing emissions reduction strategies on a global scale. However, it did offer several practical steps that governments and institutions could take to combat nitrous oxide emissions.

UNEP said that government subsidies could be formulated to cut down on the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers, reducing the amount of overall nitrogen entering the environment. Academic institutions could foster research of emissions-reducing technology and educational programs for boosting crop and animal productivity without emitting nitrous oxide, the UN organization said.

The UNEP recommendations come as representatives from over 190 nations are meeting in Warsaw, Poland for a UN climate conference this week, which has started off with discord over who should pay the cost of climate change. The meetings have focused on greenhouse gas emission cuts under a new climate treaty to follow an extension to the Kyoto Protocol after 2020.

"Although not as prevalent in the atmosphere as CO2 in terms of mass, N2O - commonly known to many as 'laughing gas' - is far from a laughing matter in respect to climate and ozone damage as it has a disproportionate impact on global warming because of its radiative properties and long lifetime in the atmosphere, which is 120 years on average," Steiner said. “Action on these emissions offer yet another opportunity to keep the world under a 2 degree C temperature rise.”