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‘Fast Action Strategies’ Could Buy Earth Some Time

One of the issues raised during last years summit in Copenhagen was the need to recognize that carbon dioxide emissions are only part of the problem of global warming.

In fact, 50 percent of climate warming comes from non-CO2 factors like Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and black carbon, or soot, and these are issues that can be addressed and remedied much more quickly than CO2, which is known to stay in the atmosphere for a lengthy period.

“Fast Action Strategies” that focus on non-CO2 issues could reduce warming quickly, effectively buy some time while the pressing issues of CO2 reduction are addressed. The video clips below illustrate this:

At this week’s hearing of the U.S House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming chaired by Congressman Edward Markey, experts testified that black carbon soot, produced from incomplete combustion of diesel fuel and biomass, is one of the largest contributors to climate change apart from CO2, as well as a danger to public health, and should be a prime target of policymakers.

According to Dr. V. Ramanathan from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego:

A drastic reduction in black carbon has the potential of offsetting CO2-induced warm­ing for a decade or two. Effectively, black carbon reduction may provide a possible mechanism for buying time to de­velop and implement effective steps for reducing CO2 emissions.

Initiatives that could help reduce these emissions include passing along technical expertise to high polluting countries , like China and India, where black soot is a problem, as well as introducing measures in the U.S to install particulate filters in current and new fleets of diesel vehicles. Filters can cut particulate emissions by up to 90 percent.

Dr. Ramanathan has recently facilitated a program called Project Surya to bring solar cookstoves to India. This assisted in gathering additional data on the climate forcing potential of black carbon and its impact on local health. Research shows that emissions of black carbon contribute to respiratory illnesses, which are the fourth leading cause of excess mortality in developing countries.

According to Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD) black carbon is dangerous as it absorbs solar radiation while in the atmosphere and also darkens the surfaces of snow and ice, which can contribute to increased melting in vulnerable regions such as the Arctic and Himalayas.

But there is a positive aspect, as black carbon only stays in the atmosphere for a few weeks, making it an ideal target for achieving fast cooling through aggressive mitigation measures.

He summarized the situation by stating:

Policymakers are beginning to take note of black carbon and other short-term climate forces like HFCs, methane, and tropospheric ozone, where emissions reductions are cost-effective and can yield major climate and health. These “fast-action” strategies are low-hanging fruits that need to be picked now to avoid the dangerous near-term consequences of abrupt climate change.

Article by Kate R. appearing courtesy Celsias.

photo: chrisjfry