On Sunday 27th of February 2011 the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will be discussing the ‘Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone Summary for Decision Makers’ published by the UNEP and the World Meteorological Society recently. The report which is available online highlights the effect of Black Carbon and methane on global warming-climate change. Not much attention has been paid to Black Carbon (BC) and its effect but as the report explains:
“Black carbon’s darkening of snow and ice surfaces increases their absorption of sunlight, which, along with atmospheric heating, exacerbates melting of snow and ice around the world, including in the Arctic, the Himalayas and other glaciated and snow-covered regions. This affects the water cycle and increases risks of flooding.”
This is no surprise to the inhabitants of the areas most affected by flooding namely Bangladesh, which suffered severe flooding in 2007, Nepal which suffered a similar fate in 2008 and Pakistan most recently in 2010. So what do countries like Nepal do when disaster strikes without warning and how do they plan for the future? In Nepal’s case, where no stable government existed at the time of the last flood, long term planning was difficult.
Nepal’s Year of Tourism 2011 was meant to bring over 1,000,000 tourists to Nepal to help inject some badly needed cash into this post civil war land locked Himalayan Country. The bread basket of Nepal the Terai was literally washed into northern India with its nutrient rich topsoil gone, the Terai resembled a desert. This year as we start the spring trekking the season storms came and went with reports from the mountains claiming heavier than expected snow fall and the prospect of very fine weather for trekking.
For the average Nepali who is now suffering 14 hr of power cuts a day, increases in fuel and gas costs, food price inflation and crop failure in some areas some change needs to come. Nepal is rich in natural resources and relies mainly on hydro power for its electricity supply. As it’s not raining now the poor people of Nepal are suffering ever increasing power cuts. Power is sometime only on for 2 or 3 hours during the working day, meaning only the rich can have access to a constant supply of energy which they store up using inverters and batteries over night when the power is on, giving them an uninterrupted supply the next day.
This is one of the main topics of discussion in Nepal. Do we build more hydro electric dams or build coal or gas powered electricity generating plants. The new PM has openly discussed the hypocrisy of the west’s policy of carbon credit allocation to developing countries. If Nepal invests money in CO2 emitting coal or gas plants it will get credits from the west but if they go for the more practical and cost effective hydro electric option no credits will be forthcoming.
As an environment observer and trekker I have been shocked with the lack of concern shown in political circles to the biggest problems effecting Nepal, namely its economically important tourist industry which supports communities across the country and the thinning of the Himalayan Glaciers that provide Nepal and South Asia with water and energy.
In the west there has been too much talk of helping developed countries combat climate change but no real action has materialized. The IPCC although well meaning seems to be a talking shop and while there is still vigorous debate in the west as to what is causing the glaciers to thin, there is no doubt that it is happening. The only debate is why?
“The projected rise in global temperatures could be cut in half in coming years if world governments focused on reducing emissions of two harmful pollutants – black carbon and ground-level ozone, including methane – rather than carbon dioxide alone, according to a U.N. study released Wednesday.”
Washington Post 23rd February 2011
Nepal is sandwiched between China to the north and India to the south, east and west, with a combined population of 3 billion people and countless methane producing animals, could Nepal’s glaciers be the victim of Chinese and Indian pollution?
I have been studying the subtle and not so subtle changes in the climate over South Asia for the last 6 years and have come to the conclusion that it caused in part by the effect of Black Carbon emissions from China and India. BC is changing the monsoon rainfall patterns and depositing soot on Nepal’s glaciers. So what is black carbon and how does it affect the glaciers of Nepal?
Black Carbon is uncompensated carbon emitted from the burning of fossil fuel and biomass. Across China and India every day millions of fires are lit with cow dung, charcoal or wood, power plants pump huge plumes of BC into the atmosphere to drive these 2 developing giants with cars, trucks and buses adding to this soup of pollution we call smog.
Unlike CO2, BC only remains in the atmosphere for a short period of about 15-40 days. In this short space of time it can have a dramatic effect on the weather and cloud formation. These small pieces of soot mimic the role played by sea salt, dust and pollen in cloud formation bonding with water vapor in smaller than normal clusters. As these clouds are unnatural they alter the normal formation of clouds and can bring huge downpours of rain to areas when the BC clouds and naturally forming clouds combine forces. Similarly the BC clouds can move naturally forming clouds from areas that normally expect rain and cause drought.
To add this problem, when the water finally falls to the ground as rain or snow it has another devastating effect. Like the Artic which reflects most of the suns energy back to into the atmosphere the glaciers remain in place because they do not absorb that much heat being white but when they are darkened by BC they absorb more heat and more melting occurs.
Its time for the west to start realizing that we live in a world that is heating and cooling at the same time and to put in place some sort of international plan to address the causes of these dramatic climatic changes. While on a trek to the Annapurna Circuit last year we could clearly see layers of black carbon deposited on the glaciers near Tilicho Lake.
Do we have to wait until a major disaster strikes again before we act? BC because of its short life span is the easiest of the climate change contributors to stop. Western decision makers needs to cop on that with a fraction of the money we paid to bail out those greedy bankers in Europe and America we could have solved world poverty and help stabilize the climate.
I hope that the American Association for the Advancement of Science will listen to the Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone Summary for Decision Makers and pass on that information to our ill-informed political elites in the west.
Cap and Trade
“A central authority (usually a governmental body) sets a limit or cap on the amount of a pollutant that can be emitted. The limit or cap is allocated or sold to firms in the form of emissions permits which represent the right to emit or discharge a specific volume of the specified pollutant. Firms are required to hold a number of permits (or carbon credits) equivalent to their emissions.
The total number of permits cannot exceed the cap, limiting total emissions to that level. Firms that need to increase their emission permits must buy permits from those who require fewer permits. The transfer of permits is referred to as a trade. In effect, the buyer is paying a charge for polluting, while the seller is being rewarded for having reduced emissions. Thus, in theory, those who can reduce emissions most cheaply will do so, achieving the pollution reduction at the lowest cost to society.”
Definition taken from Emissions trading From Wikipedia.
The problem for Nepal is that they don’t have many polluting industries here yet. Should they start building polluting industries in order to gain from these trades or should Cap and Trade be modified to include a trade for countries that as yet don’t contribute to climate change but suffer from its effects the most. Please let’s not wait until it’s too late.