Future Emissions Key Drivers: Net Cooling Emissions

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Certain emissions have a net cooling effect on global temperatures due to a reduction in global irradiance at the Earth’s surface. Primary net cooling emissions are aerosols and soot. Aerosols may be produced by volcanoes or pollutants. Aerosols and CO2 are the primary pollutants emitted during fossil fuel combustion, and have approximately equal and opposite atmospheric effects. Aerosols, however, have a much shorter atmospheric lifetime (approximately one week) than CO2, which has a lifetime of a century or more.

Aerosols also have an indirect effect on cloud formation and composition. Sulfate aerosols are known to act as cloud condensation nuclei and lead to clouds that have more and smaller cloud droplets. These clouds reflect solar radiation to a greater degree than clouds with fewer and larger cloud droplets, contributing further to the net cooling properties of aerosols.