Environmental Management

, Volume 42, Issue 3, pp 458-469

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Greenhouse Impact Due to the Use of Combustible Fuels: Life Cycle Viewpoint and Relative Radiative Forcing Commitment

  • Johanna KirkinenAffiliated withVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Email author 
  • , Taru PalosuoAffiliated withEuropean Forest Institute
  • , Kristina HolmgrenAffiliated withIVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute
  • , Ilkka SavolainenAffiliated withVTT Technical Research Centre of Finland


Extensive information on the greenhouse impacts of various human actions is important in developing effective climate change mitigation strategies. The greenhouse impacts of combustible fuels consist not only of combustion emissions but also of emissions from the fuel production chain and possible effects on the ecosystem carbon storages. It is important to be able to assess the combined, total effect of these different emissions and to express the results in a comprehensive way. In this study, a new concept called relative radiative forcing commitment (RRFC) is presented and applied to depict the greenhouse impact of some combustible fuels currently used in Finland. RRFC is a ratio that accounts for the energy absorbed in the Earth system due to changes in greenhouse gas concentrations (production and combustion of fuel) compared to the energy released in the combustion of fuel. RRFC can also be expressed as a function of time in order to give a dynamic cumulative picture on the caused effect. Varying time horizons can be studied separately, as is the case when studying the effects of different climate policies on varying time scales. The RRFC for coal for 100 years is about 170, which means that in 100 years 170 times more energy is absorbed in the atmosphere due to the emissions of coal combustion activity than is released in combustion itself. RRFC values of the other studied fuel production chains varied from about 30 (forest residues fuel) to 190 (peat fuel) for the 100-year study period. The length of the studied time horizon had an impact on the RRFC values and, to some extent, on the relative positions of various fuels.


Greenhouse impact Emission analysis Radiative forcing Energy sources Fuels