Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a distinguished professor of climate and atmospheric sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, whose landmark research showed that cutting emissions of black carbon and other short-lived climate pollutants can significantly lessen the impacts of regional and global climate change, improve the health of millions of rural poor, and avoid crop losses, will receive a 2013 Champions of the Earth award, the United Nations’ highest environmental accolade, according to a UC San Diego press release.
The Champions of the Earth prize is awarded annually to leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector, whose actions have had a significant and positive impact on the environment. Organized by the United Nations Environment Programme, Ramanathan was nominated in the Science and Innovation category.
“I am very honored to accept this prestigious award, which recognizes the critical role of science and research in addressing the major environmental challenges of our time,” said Ramanathan. “Policymakers across the world are realizing that through cost-effective actions such as reducing methane emissions from natural gas and oil production, and capturing emissions from waste dumps, or phasing out products using hydroflurocarbons, or HFCs, major reductions in short-lived climate pollutants can be achieved, with significant add-on benefits for health and food security. As the science shows, fast action on black carbon, methane and HFCs – coupled with major cuts in carbon emissions – can make a critical contribution to achieving low carbon, resource-efficient, and inclusive development for all,” the Indian American professor added.
“We are proud that Prof. Ramanathan is being acknowledged for his science and for his humanitarian efforts, ensuring that research is translated into public policy,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.
Ramanathan, who also serves as UNESCO professor of climate and policy at The Energy and Resources Institute University in New Delhi, India, co-led an international research team that in 1997 first discovered the climate impact in Asia of widespread air pollution, known as the atmospheric brown cloud.
Further studies by Ramanathan and fellow researchers highlighted the effects of growing levels of soot and other forms of black carbon, sulfates, ozone, and other pollutants emitted by cities, industry, and agriculture – termed the ‘brown cloud’ – which warm the atmosphere by absorbing sunlight, and are contributing in particular to the accelerated melting of Himalayan glaciers.
Brown clouds can also disturb tropical rainfall and regional circulation patterns such as the South Asian monsoon and reduce agriculture yields, potentially affecting over a billion people on the subcontinent.
Ramanathan’s research underlines the idea that cutting emissions of black carbon, methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and other substances collectively known as short-lived climate pollutants, with lifetimes of a decade or less, along with mitigation of CO2 emissions, can reduce the rate of warming by as much as half in the coming decades.
Ramanathan has also translated his research into action, by establishing a project, known as Project Surya, in India to phase out inefficient cookstoves in collaboration with The Energy Resources Institute and Nexleaf Analytics.
Inefficient cookstoves – used by some 500 million families in developing countries – are responsible for an estimated 25 percent of all black carbon emissions. Some 3.1 million premature deaths – especially among women and girls – are also caused by inhalation of indoor smoke from cookstoves.