On June 2, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a sweeping plan to rein in carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants. It was the most significant step his administration has taken to address climate change. With the stroke of a pen, he has done more to tackle greenhouse gases (GHG) than any president in U.S. history.
To be sure, coal — along with natural gas, and oil — is one of the main culprits causing climate change, but there are others you don’t often hear about. (see the chart from EPA.)
Here are the top five contributors to greenhouse gas emissions from non-energy sources. Taken together, they account for about one-third of global emissions.
The degradation and destruction of the world’s forests is one of the main sources of CO2, accounting for almost one-fifth of total GHG emissions worldwide. In Indonesia, vast swathes of tropical forest are cleared to plant palm oil, where it is used in everything from cooking oil, to ice cream, to lipstick, to biofuels. It is a highly versatile crop, but the demand for it is creating incentives to chop down Indonesia’s forests. In Brazil, the main driver of deforestation is the clearing of land for cattle ranching. Deforestation in the Amazon specifically for cattle ranching alone accounts for 3.4 percent of global emissions.
2. Methane from livestock
The impact of cattle doesn’t come just from chopping down trees. Cows are also a significant source of methane (CH4.) The agricultural sector accounts for 14 to 18 percent of global GHG emissions and much of that comes in the form of methane, which is more than 20 times as potent a greenhouse gas as carbon dioxide.Eighty percent of the agricultural methane comes from livestock — cow manure, burps, and farts.