What are greenhouse gases, and how can we reduce them?

In April (2022) I wanted to explore a topic that is very close to my heart: greenhouse gases, and in particular the relationship between these gases and the phenomenon of climate change.

I chose this topic mainly because in the last few months we have been hearing more and more about the concept of carbon neutrality linked to compensation practices. I believe that the way this practice is used, unfortunately, is leading to greenwashing linked to the simplification of the problem of carbon neutrality through offsetting.

I am convinced that offsetting can be one of the correct practices to use, but it cannot be the main one or the only one.

I have mentioned the topic of greenhouse gases, talking about heating and cooling in the article Green solutions: the current situation and global and Italian objectives, but in this article, I deal more precisely with gases, their use and the consequences to be faced in daily life and activities.

Topics covered in this article

  • What are greenhouse gases? What do they produce and why do they worsen climate change?
  • What can be done to reduce greenhouse gases in daily life?
  • What to do to reduce greenhouse gases in an activity?

There are several greenhouse gases with very different characteristics, but they have in common a particular chemical and physical structure that allows their molecules to retain heat.

The most common in the atmosphere is

  • water vapour (H2O)
  • carbon dioxide (CO2),
  • methane (CH4),
  • nitrous oxide (N2O),
  • the chlorofluorocarbon group (CFC).

    What are the anthropogenic activities that produce greenhouse gases?

The anthropogenic activities that produce greenhouse gases globally are:

  • energy production (about 73%)
  • agriculture (about 18%)
  • waste management (about 5%)
  • cement production (about 3%)
  • chemical industry (about 2%)

Sources
https://ourworldindata.org/ghg-emissions-by-sector
https://www.myclimate.org/it/informarsi/dettaglio-faq/cosa-sono-i-gas-serra/
https://www.enelgreenpower.com/it/learning-hub/transizione-energetica/cambiamento-climatico-cause-conseguenze

GHG-Emissions-By-Sector

What greenhouse gases does electricity produce?

We have mentioned that electricity production powers everything from heating and cooling systems to lights, computers, refrigerators and mobile phones in our homes, factories and industries. 

Let’s now look at what greenhouse gases are and in particular which ones we can work on to improve. 

The Kyoto agreements require signatory nations to reduce emissions of six gases considered responsible for the greenhouse effect and the progressive increase in the planet’s temperature (carbon dioxide CO2, nitrous oxide N2O, methane CH4, hydrofluorocarbons HFC, perfluorocarbons PFC, sulphur hexafluoride SF6). 

Of the six greenhouse gases, CO2 (carbon dioxide) is emitted in the largest quantities by energy processes, followed by CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide), while HFCs, PFCs and SF6, although included in the Kyoto agreements, are emitted by non-energy processes (ENEA, 2005a). 

Electricity production is one of the activities that lead to the largest amount of greenhouse gas emissions together with the transport sector, but unlike transport, in the electricity production sector emissions occur at point sources. This requirement allows the adoption of effective policy measures to reduce emissions (expansion of combined cycles, use of renewables, etc.) and the application of new technologies for GHG abatements, such as CO2 capture and sequestration.

The Ispra report explains: the decarbonisation of the economy can be pursued by acting both on the sources of energy used to produce goods and services and on the efficiency of energy use; acting on both fronts is obviously the most virtuous path that can be taken. 

In terms of the energy sources used, useful strategies include moving towards a mix of fuels with lower carbon content, mainly natural gas, or increasing the share of energy from renewable sources, which do not have climate-changing emissions but are nevertheless characterised by other problems, such as the combustion of biomass and the emission of substances harmful to air quality, or the land consumption of wind and photovoltaic sources.

In terms of the efficiency of energy use, the aim is obviously optimisation, i.e. achieving more with less. In other words, reducing losses and inefficiencies in the production processes of goods and services as much as possible, whether it be heating a building, covering a distance with a vehicle or producing steel, cement, paper, textiles and more.

SOURCES
Report Ispra APAT Electricity production and greenhouse gas emissions (Emission mitigation strategies)  

What can you do in your daily life to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Since 73% of the human activities responsible for greenhouse gases are in the energy sector, reducing our energy use is the first action we can take directly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The second action we can take is to choose the best way of producing energy for our needs: cleaner energy (from renewable sources).

This action is crucial because most electricity is used in our homes, offices and factories to power everything from heating and cooling systems to lights, computers, refrigerators and mobile phones.

Renewable energy harnesses the power of wind, sun, water, tides and other planetary resources (such as geothermal heat, which comes from the Earth’s core) to produce electricity.

In addition, we can choose whether to produce our own energy or to go to a producer who only sells us energy from renewable sources.

The third action concerns energy efficiency. Choosing more efficient products and systems helps to avoid wasting energy and producing more of it.

SOURCES

Center for climate and energy solution
CENTRE FOR SCIENCE EDUCATION

What can a company do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Of course, companies must also think along similar lines, avoiding upstream waste, excess production, packaging and use of raw materials, and also considering the end-of-life of the product.

The energy sources chosen to heat and run the business are fundamental to setting up a strategy to save resources and invest in the best available technology, especially considering the fact that these investments should be made to last at least ten years. 

The least polluting and most efficient solution should be chosen. 

The suppliers of bed and bath linen should be evaluated, their performance should be considered not only in terms of the quality of the product supplied but also in the way they wash, the choice of chemical and non-chemical products and in the ironing of the garments. 

Evaluating and choosing business partners is not always feasible, but when it is, consistency with the choices of my business is very important.   

Furthermore, according to the European Union study Best Environmental Management Practice in THE TOURISM SECTOR, a small hotel that recycles around 84% of its waste can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions:

1,700 kg CO2 each year if the sorted waste is paper
712.5 kg CO2 each year for glass
70.8kg CO2 each year for plastic
58.9kg CO2 each year for metals

If our strategy includes reducing the waste we should be very careful with disposable items or small single-serving packages.

These items are among the biggest wastes and lead to a facility producing a huge amount of waste that could be avoided.

Eliminating disposable and single-serving products and replacing them with refillable dispensers is an economic and ecological choice that also allows us to reduce annoying plastic.  

The starting point for all activities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (reduced waste, better choice of raw materials, improved efficiency) is an analysis of the level of CO2 (carbon dioxide), CH4 (methane) and N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions caused by a company, product or service. This analysis allows you to understand exactly where to take action to improve your business.

Would you like to learn more about the GHG Protocol and GRI Standards?

Let me know with this form.

Sara – tourism sector consultant

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