Super pollutants

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Environmental risk management - Conference of the Parties - emissions - greenhouse gases.

Author: Charitarth Sindhu', Environmental Sustainability & ESG Consultant.

While carbon dioxide is the most widely recognized greenhouse gas due to its long atmospheric lifespan of 300-1,000 years, there is a group of shorter-lived pollutants known as super pollutants or forcers that pose a more immediate and potent threat to accelerating climate change.

Super pollutants include black carbon, methane and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

Given their significant impact and shorter lifespans, reducing emissions of super pollutants has the potential to swiftly mitigate global warming.

Black carbon

Black carbon, a fine particle byproduct of incomplete combustion from fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass, is the second-largest contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide.

Major sources of black carbon emissions include combustion engines, coal-fired power plants, and any source burning fossil fuels, including natural wildfires.

Linked to adverse health effects such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer, and developmental issues in children, black carbon has a relatively short lifespan of 4-12 days but exerts a warming impact 1,500 times greater than CO2 per unit of mass.


Methane, emitted from both man-made and natural sources conducive to microorganism breeding, such as waste landfills, oil and natural gas combustion, agricultural activities, wastewater treatment, and industrial processes, has a 12-year atmospheric lifespan.

Methane possesses 80 times more global warming potential than CO2 and currently contributes over 25% to net total global warming.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

Unlike other greenhouse gases, HFCs are deliberately produced for specific applications such as refrigeration, air conditioning, aerosols, and fire protection.

These organic compounds, containing fluorides and hydrogen atoms, are the fastest-growing greenhouse gases globally.

Most commonly used HFCs have a 15-year atmospheric lifetime and are 140 to 11,700 times more potent than CO2.

Remarkably, releasing a single 30-pound (14kg) HFC tank has a global warming potential equivalent to the CO2 emissions from driving over 14 additional cars annually.

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