A new study says that shifting from coal to natural gas would fail to significantly slow down climate change.
The study by Tom Wigley, who is a senior research associate at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), underscores the complex and sometimes conflicting ways in which fossil fuel burning affects Earth's climate.
While coal use causes warming through emission of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it also releases comparatively large amounts of sulfates and other particles that, although detrimental to the environment, cool the planet by blocking incoming sunlight, the report said.
The situation is further complicated by uncertainty over the amount of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.
Wigley's computer simulations indicate that a greater reliance on natural gas would begin to slow down the increase in global average temperature by 2050, but only by a few tenths of a degree.
"Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem," says Wigley, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia.
"It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges," he added.
The study will be published in the journal Climatic Change Letters.