'Clean Air' Threatens to Speed Global Warming

Max Planck Institute professor warns major pollution conference in London that pollution-generated aerosol "cooling" may be hiding higher climate sensitivity than generally assumed....

Published: 25-Aug-2004

align=justify>AIR pollution may have masked the true extent of the threat posed by global warming, according to a leading scientist.

Aerosols - particles of pollution in the air - help to cool the earth but, as they diminish in coming decades, global warming may be found to accelerate, Professor Meinrat Andreae of the Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany, has claimed.

Prof Andreae told a major pollution conference in London that warming will be especially fast if aerosol "cooling" has hidden a higher climate sensitivity than is generally assumed.

He said: "These arguments suggest that there is a considerable chance that climate change in the 21st century will follow the upper extremes of current ... estimates, and may even exceed them.

"This would have truly grave consequences for the earth environment and human society, and [calls] for immediate and radical reductions of greenhouse gas emissions."

Prof Andreae says the aerosols, which scatter light back to space, tend on balance to cool the earth.

But because of efforts to stop the particles being emitted, and their short lifetime, this "climate protection" will diminish in the future.

He said: "The only winning strategy is to do as much as possible, as fast as possible, to cut emissions of greenhouse gases."

The 13th World Clean Air and Environmental Protection Congress also heard that Britain will use its influence as the head of two major international bodies to boost efforts to combat climate change and pollution.

Lord Whitty, the Environment Minister, said the UK would use its position as chair of the G8 group of nations next year and its forthcoming EU presidency to push the climate- change agenda at the highest level "in every way we can".

He told the conference: "Internationally our first priority is climate change, in the long term probably the most important issue we face as a global community.

"It is important that we present a clear case for concerted action on climate change to the G8 next year, and the same will apply to our presidency of the EU. It’s important that the case is made and action taken.

"The government’s energy white paper sets a goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by around 60 per cent by 2050. Latest estimates suggest that UK greenhouse gas emissions in 2003 were about 14 per cent below 1990 levels, with carbon dioxide emissions for 2003 estimated about 7 per cent lower than in 1990."

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