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Open Access Reducing the Carbon and Sulfur Load of the Atmosphere. Assessing Global Decarbonization and Desulfurization and the Future of a Low-Carbon World

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For more than a century human activities have been affecting two key biogeochemical cycles, carbon and sulfur. Substantial declines in average carbon intensity (carbon per gigajoule), especially in Western countries, have not been translated into an absolute decline of global emissions, largely due to large emissions increases in Latin America, Africa and, above all, in Asia. In contrast, global desulfurization has taken place not only in relative but also in absolute terms: we have seen not only lower sulfur intensities per unit of liberated energy but substantial decline in total sulfur emissions. We have accomplished this despite a massive increase in global combustion of coal thanks largely to an effective technical fix (flue gas desulfurization). There are no imminent prospects for any major reductions in absolute emissions of carbon dioxide. In view of climate change, this seems critical because the atmospheric behavior and the future levels of absorbed outgoing radiation are indeed determined by the absolute atmospheric levels of the gas, not by reductions of relative burdens per unit of product or service. The next two decades will prove to be crucial.

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Keywords: DECARBONIZATION; DESULFURIZATION; EMISSIONS; FOSSIL FUELS; HYDROGEN ECONOMY; PRIMARY ELECTRICITY; PRIMARY ENERGY; SUSTAINABILITY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 December 2013

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  • GAIA is a peer-reviewed inter- and transdisciplinary journal for scientists and other interested parties concerned with the causes and analyses of environmental and sustainability problems and their solutions.

    Environmental problems cannot be solved by one academic discipline. The complex natures of these problems require cooperation across disciplinary boundaries. Since 1991, GAIA has offered a well-balanced and practice-oriented forum for transdisciplinary research. GAIA offers first-hand information on state of the art environmental research and on current solutions to environmental problems. Well-known editors, advisors, and authors work to ensure the high quality of the contributions found in GAIA and a unique transdisciplinary dialogue – in a comprehensible style.

    GAIA is an ISI-journal, listed in the Science Citation Index Expanded, Social Science Citation Index and in Current Contents/Social and Behavioral Sciences.

    All contributions undergo a double-blind peer review.

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