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14 Sep 2011: Shift from Coal to Gas
Will Not Slow Warming, Study Says

While a greater reliance on burning natural gas instead of coal would reduce carbon emissions worldwide, it would have a negligible effect on slowing the effects of climate change, according to a U.S. study. Using a series of computer simulations, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) calculated that a partial shift from coal to natural gas worldwide would in fact slightly accelerate climate change through at least 2050. That’s because natural gas contains methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and also because the sulfur particles produced by coal-burning provide a cooling effect for the planet. The NCAR study said that if methane leaks from natural gas drilling are significant, natural gas burning would slightly accelerate warming through 2140. After that, the greater reliance on natural gas would slow the rate of global warming, but only by a few tenths of a degree, the study says. “It would be many decades before [the burning of natural gas] would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges,” said Tom Wigley, a senior research associate at NCAR.

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