A new study led by Meridith Fry, PhD, recent alumna of the Gillings School of Global Public Health’s Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, examines the role of carbon monoxide (CO), a byproduct of the incomplete combustion of carbon fuels, in climate change.
The study, “Net radiative forcing and air quality responses to regional CO emission reductions,” was published May 29 in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics.
“Carbon monoxide is really Kyoto’s forgotten gas when it comes to climate change efforts and agreements,” said Jason West, PhD, assistant professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the Gillings School and a co-author of the study.
Carbon monoxide has not been targeted as a greenhouse gas in part because its effects on climate depend upon the locations from which it is emitted.
“Climate forcing” is an indicator that measures the heating effect caused by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. For human-caused climate change, the authors estimate that emissions of carbon monoxide cause about 8 percent of the climate forcing of carbon dioxide.
“Ozone has been implicated in respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, and carbon monoxide also affects health,” Fry said. “If a country reduces its carbon monoxide emissions, it would improve its own air quality and the health of its population within months.”
West added that reductions could be made in more developed nations by adopting stricter emissions standards for new vehicles and expanding reliance on mass transit. In less developed nations, emphasis could be placed upon improvements to inefficient industrial furnaces and residential stoves, and on reducing deforestation by burning.
“The effect of CO on climate is small, but it should not be forgotten,” West said. “Including CO in a climate treaty can give countries incentive to reduce it, perhaps addressing climate change more cost-effectively. Countries are likely to see the near-term local benefits for air quality and health as a good motivation to take action.”