Emission of greenhouse gases (see also Appendix A on Global Warming) leading to gradual but certain warming of the global environment is a particularly salient environmental problem with grave implications. Measurements made worldwide clearly indicate that average global temperatures have been on the rise since the industrial revolution. The temperature has correlated particularly well with the CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere over that period of time, suggesting that the burning of fossil fuels played a key role in the phenomenon. In 2001, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities, particularly to the burning of fossil fuels. There is some disagreement within the scientific community on related issues such as the nature of the exact correlation between CO2 levels and the global average temperature or the effectiveness of various climatic models. But, any debate on the main causes of warming has now been put to rest and high levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are well accepted to be the primary cause of global warming. The consequences of global warming are already beginning to be documented in many parts of the world. Effects predicted by IPCC include rising sea levels, increased precipitation, glacial melting, and greater extremes in weather events, such as droughts and floods. Table 1.3 lists the common greenhouse gases and their relative contribution to the global warming that is caused by human activity.
In common with all types of industry, plastics manufacturing and processing operations primarily use fossil fuel energy. The concomitant release of CO2 and other greenhouse gases contributes in some measure to the global climate change process. The overall industrial CO2 emissions are significant, amounting to some 23,880 million Mt worldwide in 1996 (the North American share was 5710 million Mt) A small fraction of this CO2 emission can be undoubtedly attributed to the plastics industry. The plastics industry (as should every industry) continually makes every effort to minimize such emissions by becoming increasingly energy efficient and by developing innovative low-emitting technologies.
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