Sinks

The sources of CO2 to the atmosphere are diverse. In particular, the wide range of sources of anthropogenic CO2 emissions means that reducing these emissions is far from straightforward. In the debate over how best to tackle human-induced climate change, a parallel is often drawn between this problem and that of ozone depletion by chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In the case of CFCs, efforts to cut emissions were targeted at a small number of sources (e.g. refrigerants and aerosol propellants) and, through implementation of the Montreal Protocol, large emission reductions were achieved in a relatively short period of time. However, attempts to cut anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions must address emissions from myriad sources, rather than from just a few.

Even more problematic is the lack of straightforward alternatives. Where CFCs were replaced by hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and then by hydrocarbons, without great difficulty and cost, alternatives to key sources of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, such as fossil fuel burning, are much harder to implement.

In addressing rising greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, cutting anthropogenic emissions is only part of the equation. Protecting, and potentially increasing, the sinks for CO2, CH4 and N2O may play a crucial role in determining how the climate of the 21st century unfolds.

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