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At a “Technical Expert Meeting” during the October UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn (20 – 25 October) governments, international agencies and companies agreed that there are many ways to effectively curb so-called “non-C02 gases”, even if overall emissions from these gases are expected to grow in the near future.

These are the gases methane, nitrous oxide and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which have a higher global warming potential than carbon dioxide, and result from activities such as agriculture, industry, waste and household appliances.

Essential to Reduce Harmful Industrial Gases

Curbing the impact of these gases is one of the key areas with high potential to enable the international community to reach its goal of staying below a maximum global average two degrees Celsius temperature rise.

The experts agreed that reducing harmful non-CO2 gases has many benefits going beyond greenhouse gas reductions, above all for human health. They also agreed that whilst carbon pricing can play a role in reducing such gases, a priority should be put on reducing particularly harmful industrial gases with the help of the Paris 2015 global climate agreement.

Governments are currently looking at how to raise ambition to tackle climate change before 2020, when this new universal climate change agreement is to take effect.

Here are some highlights of the meeting:

Action on Methane Reduction

According to the Global Methane Initiative (GMI), after CO2, methane is the most prevalent GHG in the atmosphere trapping 24 times more heat that CO2. Methane emissions come from a variety of sectors: livestock, coal-mining, oil & gas, as well as rice cultivation. Methane is also generated in landfills as waste decomposes and in the treatment of wastewater.

In Bonn, the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA) said that up to 800 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year could be avoided through better regulation of landfills and infrastructure investment.


Image: Flickr user: United Nations Photo

The association also said that developing countries can benefit through the increased transfer of technology and finance via the Clean Development Mechanism. Around 11% of registered CDM projects are waste sector projects. More than 80 million carbon credits have been issued for landfill gas and methane avoidance projects.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations pointed out in Bonn that half of global methane emissions and 78% of emissions from this sector come from livestock and that a wide range of options to reduce methane exists, for example improved feeding practices. Methane is produced when livestock digest food, otherwise known as “enteric methane”.


Image: FAO presentation: TEMs: Non CO2 gases

Several governments explained in Bonn what they are doing to reduce methane:

  • In New-Zealand,methane accounts for 45% of total emissions, mostly from agriculture. New Zealand has introduced innovative ways to reduce methane emissions, for example by introducing a new breed of sheep which has resulted in 10% lower emissions.
  • Australia has introduced a Carbon Farming Initiative, which enables individuals and companies to obtain carbon credits by reducing methane. An emissions Reduction Fund has also been established, providing over AUS 2.5 billion dollars over 4 years to stakeholders.
  • In Kenya, a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) pilot project has been launched to address the issue of high GHG emissions associated with dairy production caused by poor feeding practices and inadequate infrastructure. The pilot project is focusing on stakeholder consultations.

Action on Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

In Bonn, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) pointed out that Nitrous Oxide (N2O) accounts for 7% of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, and that crop and livestock agriculture make up for 75% of this amount.

Nitrous oxide emissions are produced when nitrogen is added to the soil through the use of fertilizers and are emitted during the breakdown of nitrogen in livestock manure and urine. Two other major sources include fuel combustion and industrial production.

Nitrous Oxide has a global warming potential of 310 times that of CO2 over a hundred year timescale. In addition to contributing to climate change, nitrous oxide contributes to ozone depletion.


The IPCC pointed to two ways nitrous oxide emissions could be reduced. One is through dietary changes: eating less meet would help to reduce emissions, given that livestock industry accounts for a large share of the nitrous oxide emissions. The second is a better management of livestock, croplands and integrated agro-forestry systems.

 The IPCC noted that a combination of these efforts could have the potential to reduce up to 80% of the emissions in agriculture by 2030.

The World Bank said that crop rotation could be used to harness biological nitrogen. It further said that the management of fertilizers could help to close the emissions gap 10% by 2020. Although improving use efficiency with 20% would require significant investments of about US$12 billion annually, savings in annual fertilizer costs alone would amount to about US$23 billion.undefined

According to the World Bank, additional environmental and health benefits of cutting nitrous oxide emissions including improved water quality and air quality amount to US$160 billion per year. In addition to improving nitrogen use efficiency, the World Bank suggests the following policies to unlock this potential: targeting fertilizer subsidies to avoid the overuse of nitrogen fertilizers; investment in soil conservation, improved cook stoves; and improvements in waste management.

Brazil exemplified the large contribution nitrous oxide mitigation could make to overall mitigation efforts. Although only 5 of 323 Clean Development Mechanisms(CDM) projects in Brazil focus on reducing Nitrous Oxide emissions, these projects account for 50.5% of all emissions reduced under the CDM in Brazil because of the high global warming potential of the gas.          

Farmers fertilizing crops. Photo by Flickr user Stuart Rankin


 Action on Hydrofluorocarbons

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are manmade greenhouse gases that are used primarily in refrigeration, air-conditioning units, and foam sectors. HFCs are common replacements for the ozone-depleting CFCs and HCFCs. Many HFCs are highly potent warming agents, some with global warming potential of over 12,000 that of CO2.

The production, consumption and demand for HFCs are growing fast worldwide, primarily in developing countries. According to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), the HFC production, consumption and emissions are growing at a rate of 8% per year, and up to 15% in some countries.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition said that HFCs could contribute up to 0.1°C warming by 2050 and up to 0.5°C warming by 2100. Experts meeting in Bonn warned that possible future HFC emissions are a significant obstacle to the 450 ppm stabilization target, and that HFCs could account for as much as 20% of all greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if present trends continue.

undefinedGraph: CCAC Presentation: TEMs Non Co2 gases  

Refrigeration and air conditioning equipment in homes, buildings & industrial operations account for about 55% of total HFC use, mobile air conditioning accounts for about 24%, whereas aerosols account for 5%.

The CCAC said adequate action on HFCs could prevent up to 2 billion tons of CO2 equivalent emissions over the next decade, and over 100 billion tons of CO2eq emissions by 2050.

undefinedConsumption of HFCs by sector. Source: CCAC

The CCAC is working with many countries that are beginning to address HFCs, including supporting inventories of national consumption of alternatives to HCFCs and identification and removal of barriers in countries from the Bahamas to Vietnam. In addition, several CCAC members highlighted domestic HFC policies for example the EU, Japan and the United States.

China highlighted its bilateral cooperation with the US on HFCs, with two high-level agreements personally clinched between Chinese President Xi Jinping US President Barack Obama and joint demonstration projects already in place.

Finally, the UNFCCC’s Technology Executive Committee and the Climate Technology Centre and Network said in Bonn they were ready to provide services to help reduce HFCs and other gases based on country requests and demand.

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