Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 9, 21257-21284, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed
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This discussion paper has been under review for the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics (ACP). Please refer to the corresponding final paper in ACP.
The net climate impact of coal-fired power plant emissions
D. T. Shindell and G. Faluvegi
NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, 2880 Broadway, New York, NY 10025, USA

Abstract. Coal-fired power plants influence climate via both the emissions of long-lived carbon dioxide (CO2) and short-lived ozone and aerosol precursors. For steadily increasing emissions without substantial pollution controls, we find that the net global mean climate forcing ranges from near zero to a substantial negative value, depending on the magnitude of aerosol indirect effects, due to aerosol masking of the effects of CO2. Imposition of pollution controls on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides leads to a rapid realization of the full positive forcing from CO2, however. The long-term forcing from stable (constant) emissions is positive regardless of pollution controls, with larger values in the case of pollutant controls. The results imply that historical emissions from coal-fired power plants until ~1970, including roughly 1/3 of total anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, likely contributed little net global mean climate forcing during that period. Those emissions likely led to weak cooling at Northern Hemisphere mid-latitudes and warming in the Southern Hemisphere, however. Subsequent imposition of pollution controls and the switch to low-sulfur coal in some areas kept global SO2 emissions roughly level from 1970 to 2000. Hence during that period, RF due to emissions during those decades and CO2 emitted previously was strongly positive and likely contributed to rapid global and regional warming. Most recently, construction of coal-fired power plants in China and India has been increasing rapidly with minimal application of pollution controls. Continuation of high-growth rates for another 30 years would lead to near zero to negative global mean climate forcing in the absence of expanded pollution controls, but severely degraded air quality. However, following the Western pattern of high coal usage followed by imposition of pollution controls could lead to accelerated global warming in the future.

Citation: Shindell, D. T. and Faluvegi, G.: The net climate impact of coal-fired power plant emissions, Atmos. Chem. Phys. Discuss., 9, 21257-21284, doi:10.5194/acpd-9-21257-2009, 2009.
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