EMBARGOED BY Foreign Affairs
FOR RELEASE ON Wednesday, August 19, 2009 09:00 PM PDT
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Cleaning Up Black Carbon Provides Instant Benefits Against Global Warming
Scripps climate researcher terms reduction of diesel and biomass burning the 'low-hanging fruit' of climate change mitigation in policy journal article
Scripps Institution of Oceanography / University of California, San DiegoThe world could buy time to forestall disastrous environmental and geopolitical climate change effects by using existing technologies to curb emissions created through diesel and solid biomass fuel burning, according to an article co-authored by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego climate and atmospheric scientist V. Ramanathan.
Writing in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs magazine with Jessica Seddon Wallack, director of the Center for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial Management and Research in Chennai, India, Ramanathan concludes that full implementation of existing emissions-control technologies could offset the warming effects of one to two decades of carbon dioxide emissions. A dedicated effort would not only allow more time for creation of effective carbon dioxide-reduction regulations but would also have enormous public health and economic benefits, the authors said.
"Focusing on reducing emissions of black carbon and ozone precursors is the low-hanging fruit: the implementation is feasible, and the benefits would be numerous and immediate," Wallack and Ramanathan write.
Ramanathan said that he and his coauthor approached Foreign Affairs with the concept for the article based on his calculations in a 2008 paper that society has already crossed the threshold at which damaging effects of climate change are assured. He also approached Wallack, a policy expert, to suggest ways of presenting the challenge and possible responses that reach audiences that could implement new regulations and effect initiatives to make cleaner technologies more accessible.
Scripps climate and atmospheric scientist V. Ramanathan
"It became clear to me that we have to go beyond just reducing CO2 to hedge against unmanageable climate change," Ramanathan said.
"Black carbon and ozone are technologically and politically tractable targets for immediate policy action," added Wallack. "The challenge is raising awareness of their impacts on climate and development and knowledge about the relatively straightforward steps that can be taken to reduce emissions."
Black carbon is a form of carbon that absorbs light and is most commonly produced by people as diesel exhaust or soot from wood- or dung-burning fires. Ozone is a gas created by reactions among other gases such as carbon monoxide and methane frequently produced by human activities. At lower levels of the atmosphere, it is a greenhouse gas with a warming effect equal to about 20 percent of that of carbon dioxide.
Both black carbon particles and ozone gas remain in the atmosphere for periods of only weeks to months, as opposed to the centuries that carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere. The authors argue that mitigation measures targeting black carbon and ozone would therefore produce immediate climate benefits. Additionally it would help alleviate damage to respiratory health in humans caused by black carbon smog, the fourth-leading cause of premature death in developing countries. Crop yields would be aided by ozone-removal efforts since the gas damages plant cells and disrupts chlorophyll production.
Jessica Seddon Wallack, director of the Center for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial Management and Research in Chennai, India.
Wallack and Ramanathan further point out that technologies to reduce black carbon and ozone already exist. The authors cite a finding from an American non-profit research organization that shows that retrofitting one million tractor-trailers with diesel particulate filters would produce effects equal to removing 5.7 million cars from the road. The main challenges, according to the authors, lie in motivating adoption of technologies to reduce diesel emissions and making technologies to burn biomass fuels more efficiently accessible around the world. These are more akin to development challenges than traditional environmental policies.
"I hope that this will gain a place on the global environmental agenda as a high priority complement to ongoing efforts to reduce CO2 emissions," Wallack said. "More importantly, we hope that greater knowledge of the climate, health and agricultural benefit of reducing these two pollutants will reinforce the fact that environmental and economic or development considerations are often aligned."
"By highlighting the work of Wallack and Ramanathan, we are introducing Foreign Affairs readers to black carbon emissions as a serious policy issue to tackle with potentially dramatic near-term results," said magazine Managing Editor Gideon Rose.
In many areas, Indian women rely on dung or wood to fuel cooking stoves. Image courtesy of M.V. Ramana
Ramanathan said that these mitigation measures could serve to hedge against the full effects of global warming caused by greenhouse gases. They will also offset the acceleration of global warming that can occur when the atmosphere is cleaned of reflective particles such as sulfates from coal combustion that have an atmospheric cooling effect.
Diesel exhaust and cooking with biomass fuels both have net warming effects, though the magnitude of biomass burning's warming effect is not well understood. Ramanathan is currently studying the net warming effect of biomass burning as part of Project Surya, an effort to measure the effect of replacing traditional cooking methods in rural India with cleaner-burning alternatives. Wallack and UCSD Rady School of Business Professor Vish Krishnan are also participating in Project Surya to identify ways to remove bottlenecks to larger-scale adoption of technologies for cleaner burning of renewables.
"Our finding provides a tremendous incentive to help the over 3 billion people who live on less than $2 a day and are forced to cook and heat their homes with biomass fuels such as dung, crop residues and firewood," Ramanathan said.
# # #
Note to broadcast and cable producers: University of California, San Diego provides an on-campus satellite uplink facility for live or pre-recorded television interviews. Please phone or e-mail the media contact listed above to arrange an interview.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, at University of California, San Diego, is one of the oldest, largest and most important centers for global science research and education in the world. The National Research Council has ranked Scripps first in faculty quality among oceanography programs nationwide Now in its second century of discovery, the scientific scope of the institution has grown to include biological, physical, chemical, geological, geophysical and atmospheric studies of the earth as a system. Hundreds of research programs covering a wide range of scientific areas are under way today in 65 countries. The institution has a staff of about 1,300, and annual expenditures of approximately $155 million from federal, state and private sources. Scripps operates one of the largest U.S. academic fleets with four oceanographic research ships and one research platform for worldwide exploration.
Share This Story