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Air pollution and climate change

In Wales air pollutants are primarily monitored because of their effect on human health and ecosystems. However, some pollutants can also contribute towards climate change and these impacts have to be taken into account when planning national and local abatement strategies.

More information is available about greenhouse gases, Particulate Matter, international and national action on climate change and reducing your carbon footprint.


Greenhouse gases

Global Warming Potentials defined on a 100-year horizon (IPCC, 1996):
Greenhouse Gas GWP Source
Water vapour Not calculated  
Carbon dioxide 1 Combustion of fossil fuels
Methane 21 Agricultural, waste disposal, leakage from the gas distribution system and coal mining
Nitrous oxide 310 Agriculture, transport, industrial processes and coal combustion
Ozone Not calculated Secondary pollutant formed in the atmosphere by chemical reactions with other pollutants, initiated by sunlight
F-Gases HFCs 140-11,700 Refrigeration
PFCs 6,500-9,200
SF6 23,900

Greenhouse gases contribute to long term global climate change by a process known as the greenhouse effect.

Light and heat energy (infrared radiation) from the sun is absorbed by the surface of the Earth during the day, and is released again slowly over time. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb the infrared radiation and re-radiate it in all directions, including back to the Earth´s surface. In this way heat is trapped in the lower levels of the troposphere, causing warming and higher temperatures than would be experienced if there were no greenhouse gases.

The direct greenhouse gases have different effectiveness in radiative forcing, which measures the influence a factor has in altering the balance of incoming and outgoing energy in the earth´s atmosphere. The Global Warming Potential (GWP) is a means of providing a simple measure of the relative radiative effects of the emissions of the various gases. The index is defined as the cumulative radiative forcing between the present and a future time horizon caused by a unit mass of gas emitted now, expressed relative to that of CO2. It is necessary to define a time horizon because the gases have different lifetimes in the atmosphere.