14 January 2013

Major air pollutant on the decline

Human emissions of sulfur dioxide have declined globally since 2006, according to new IIASA research evaluating developments in the last decade.

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© Darkbird77 | Dreamstime.com

The new study, published last week in the journal Environmental Research Letters, showed that emissions of sulfur dioxide, a common air pollutant released during coal and fossil fuel combustion, increased from 2000 to 2006, after which they started to decline. Until the 2000s, when emissions started to rise again, sulfur dioxide emissions had generally declined since the 1970’s because of emission controls spurred by national regulation and international agreements.

The new study, by IIASA researchers Zbigniew Klimont and Janusz Cofala, and Steven Smith at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in the US, showed that emissions from North America and Europe declined over the entire study period, while emissions from Asia and from international shipping increased. China, the biggest contributor to sulfur dioxide emissions, had increasing emissions until 2005, after which their contribution started to decline.

Sulfur dioxide contributes to particulate pollution—which can be damaging for human health, and acid rain—which can damage ecosystems and crops. Sulfate aerosols have a cooling effect on the climate, which has led some researchers to suggest that continued reductions will lead to greater global temperature increases in coming decades. The study used IIASA’s GAINS model, along with emissions reports from countries, to calculate sulfur dioxide emissions for the entire world on a detailed regional scale.

The new study shows a decrease in global sulfur dioxide emissions since 2006, while emissions continued to increase in Asia. From: Z Klimont et al. 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 014003. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/1/014003


Klimont, Z., S. J. Smith, and J. Cofala. 2013. The last decade of global anthropogenic sulfur dioxide: 2000–2011 emissions. Environmental Research Letters. 8. stacks.iop.org/ERL/8/014003

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Last edited: 15 January 2013


Zbigniew Klimont

Research Group Leader and Principal Research Scholar Pollution Management Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program

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International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)
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