Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Curbing black carbon would bring dramatic, quick benefits to all

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): Global warming could be slowed down if governments cleaned up what's known as black carbon from industry and cooking fires, 50 of the world's leading atmospheric scientists said on Tuesday. Major air pollutants such as black carbon, methane and ground-level ozone mostly result from the soot and gases formed by the incomplete burning of fossil fuels, wood and biomass. These pollutants only remain in the atmosphere for a few days or weeks, and are mostly seen by governments as important for health and air quality.

But the UN environment programme, working with the World Meteorological Organisation, said these "short-lived climate forcers" contribute as much as 25-30% to present-day climate change emissions, and if controlled would also provide dramatic health and farming benefits. "A small number of emission reduction measures ... offer dramatic public health, agricultural, economic and environmental benefits," said Achim Steiner, the head of the UN environment programme.

Black carbon affects climate by intercepting and absorbing sunlight, darkening snow and ice when deposited, and helping to form clouds. It is most noticeable at the poles, on glaciers and in mountain regions – all environments which are showing the greatest impact of climate change. The full impact of black carbon is still being assessed but it is linked to the melting of the glaciers in the Himalayas, disruption of traditional rainfall patterns in India and Africa, and low yields of maize, rice, wheat and soya bean crops in Asia and elsewhere. It is also partly generated by wood-burning stoves and dirty diesel cars….

A campfire shot by Eric Dufresne, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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