An aerial view of prescribed burn in Burwash Landing

What causes climate change?

Greenhouse gases absorb heat and trap it in the Earth’s atmosphere. This keeps the planet warm enough to sustain life by preventing too much heat from escaping. However, human activities that burn fossil fuels cause the rapid release of greenhouse gas emissions. This causes a higher concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. The concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth’s atmosphere has increased significantly over the past several decades. This is raising the planet’s overall temperature and is the main cause of climate change.

What are greenhouse gas emissions?

Greenhouse gas emissions get their name because they trap solar energy in the Earth’s atmosphere. They do not let the sun’s solar energy escape back into space. This creates an effect similar to what happens in greenhouses, and it's what keeps the Earth warm. Several greenhouse gases contribute to climate change. Their impact varies based on their ability to absorb energy and how long they stay in the atmosphere. 

Most common greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activities 

Carbon dioxide (CO2): This represents 80% of human caused emissions. It's released into the atmosphere when humans burn fossil fuels such as gas, oil and coal. Carbon dioxide is stored in soil and forests so it can also be released from deforestation and soil degradation. 

Methane (CH4): This is most commonly released during production and transportation of oil and natural gas and from livestock and agricultural practices. 

Nitrous oxide (N2O): This is most commonly released during agriculture and industrial activities. It's also released when fossil fuels and solid waste is burned. 

Fluorinated gases: These are groups of gases that contain fluorine and other chemicals. They're typically released through industrial processes and through commercial and household uses. 

How long do greenhouse gases last in our atmosphere?

Greenhouse gases can last in our atmosphere for thousands of years. Their effect is amplified when they collect in the atmosphere and cause more rapid global warming. The greenhouse gases we release into the atmosphere now will affect the Earth’s temperature for our children, grandchildren and future generations because of how long the gases last.

Watch NASA's video: What is the greenhouse effect?

Yukon's greenhouse gas emissions

The territory's greenhouse gas emissions are a small per cent of Canada’s total emissions. However, the Yukon’s per capita emissions are among the highest in the world.

Most of the greenhouse gas emissions come from fossil fuel use for transportation and heating. Road transportation from personal, commercial and industrial vehicles makes up about 50% of the total emissions. 

Other major sources include:

  • heating; 
  • mining activity; and 
  • electricity production.

National and international greenhouse gas emissions

Canada

Canada ranked as the 11th largest greenhouse gas emitting country in 2020. 

In Canada, industry represents almost half of our emissions. This includes:

  • oil and gas (28%); 
  • heavy industry (12%); and 
  • agriculture (10%). 

Other major sources include:

  • transportation (22%);
  • buildings (13%);
  • electricity (8%); and
  • waste (7%).

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Global

Globally, the largest greenhouse gas emissions sources are:

  • industry (24%); 
  • electricity and heating fuels (23%);
  • agriculture, forestry and other land use (22%); 
  • transportation (15%);
  • other energy (10%); and
  • buildings (6%). 

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Street view of newer homes in winter with snow on the roofs and a snow-covered mountain in the background