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This pathway will walk us through the basics of banks, starting with some of the different types and their main functions, then starting to look at the regulation faced by the banks, both before and after the Global Financial Crisis.

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Greenwashing is the act of distributing false information about something being more environmentally friendly than it actually is.

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Tackling the Cost of Living Crisis

In this video, Max discusses the cost-of-living crisis currently enveloping the UK. He examines its impact on households as well as the overall economy.

CSR and Sustainability in Financial Services

In the first video of this two-part video series, Elisa introduces us to sustainability. She begins by looking at the difference between sustainability and corporate social responsibility, two terms that can be easily confused.

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Greenhouse Gas Basics

Greenhouse Gas Basics

Liz Bentley

25 years: Meteorologist

These days you hear a lot about cutting emissions and getting to net zero. But why is it important? Join Liz Bentley as she explains what greenhouse gases are and the effect they have on the environment.

These days you hear a lot about cutting emissions and getting to net zero. But why is it important? Join Liz Bentley as she explains what greenhouse gases are and the effect they have on the environment.

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Greenhouse Gas Basics

13 mins 17 secs

Overview

The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of greenhouse gases. These gases absorb and re-emit heat energy and keep the Earth warmer. We call this the natural greenhouse effect and it makes our planet habitable. However, human activities increase atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, preventing heat from escaping into space. This causes our planet to warm and we call this the human enhanced greenhouse effect. There are 5 greenhouse gases we are primarily concerned with: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour and synthetic greenhouse gases.

Key learning objectives:

  • Understand the greenhouse effects

  • Outline the different types of greenhouse gases

  • Identify the factors causing climate change

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Summary

What is the natural greenhouse effect? 

Earth’s atmosphere is made up of greenhouse gases. These gases absorb and re-emit heat energy and keep the Earth warm. Without these greenhouse gases, all of the heat energy emitted from the surface would go directly into space. In fact, the Earth would be an uninhabitable 33°C colder. We call this the natural greenhouse effect. 

What is the human enhanced greenhouse effect? 

Adding more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere makes it more effective at preventing heat from escaping into space. This makes the Earth even warmer. This causes our planet to warm and alters Earth’s climate. We call this the human enhanced greenhouse effect.  

What are the different kinds of greenhouse gases? 

1. Carbon dioxide (CO2)

Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas contributing to the enhanced greenhouse effect. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas or burning wood are the primary sources of human-caused carbon dioxide emissions. Natural carbon sinks are affected by deforestation and other land use changes. These human activities are responsible for the vast majority of carbon dioxide emissions. Carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for over 100 years, which is why it’s important to measure carbon dioxide emissions and concentration.

2. Methane (CH4)

Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. It remains in the atmosphere for about 12 years (much shorter than carbon dioxide) but it absorbs much more energy. Over a 20-year period, it is 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its warming effects.

Natural sources of methane include wetlands and tundra permafrost (36% of methane emissions). Human sources of methane include landfills, livestock farming, rice farming, and biomass burning (64% of methane emissions). Methane has accounted for roughly 30% of global warming since pre-industrial times. 

3. Nitrous oxide (N₂O)

The lifetime of nitrous oxide is long – approximately 120 years. The amount of nitrous oxide has increased by more than 16% since pre-industrial times. Natural sources of nitrous oxide include soils under vegetation, tundra and the oceans. Human sources of nitrous oxide come from agricultural practices (e.g. fertilisers) or burning fossil fuels. 40% of nitrous oxide emissions are estimated to come from human actions.

4. Synthetic greenhouse gases

Synthetic greenhouse gases are long-lasting and are extremely effective at absorbing sunlight. Synthetic greenhouse gases include halocarbons, perfluorocarbons and sulphur hexafluoride. These synthetic greenhouse gases are created in the production of aluminium and magnesium and semiconductor manufacturing.

5. Water vapour (H₂O)

Water vapour is a natural greenhouse gas fundamental to life on Earth. As the Earth becomes warmer, more water will evaporate into the atmosphere as water vapour. For every 1°C of warming, the atmosphere can hold 7% more moisture or water vapour. Therefore, the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increases, exacerbating the greenhouse effect and leading to further warming. 

Can natural factors explain the change in climate? 

No. The primary cause of climate change is the rising concentration of greenhouse gases due to human activity. 

Subtle changes in the Earth’s orbit around the Sun are responsible for past ice ages. But changes in the sun’s activities (such as solar flares and solar cycles), have very little impact on the Earth’s climate. 

Volcanic eruptions can affect the climate in two ways, through the greenhouse gases released during an eruption and the sulphur dioxide contained in ash clouds which can form barriers to incoming sunshine. Again, these effects are minor. 

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Liz Bentley

Liz Bentley

Professor Liz Bentley is the Chief Executive of the Royal Meteorological Society, a not-for-profit organisation based in the UK. Her career in meteorology spans over 30 years and she has worked at the Met Office, BBC, and in Government. She is a regular contributor to the major broadcasters, delivering over 200 media interviews each year.

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