California, Indian States Launch Initiative to Jointly Improve Public Health, Combat Climate Change

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An effort to bring to India the science and technology that has enabled California to drastically cut air pollution from the transportation sector commenced Monday with a three-day workshop in Oakland featuring Gov. Edmund G. “Jerry” Brown, policy leaders from the Indian central government and several Indian states, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Chairman R. K. Pachauri.

The India-California Air-Pollution Mitigation Program (ICAMP) builds on the pioneering black carbon research of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, Distinguished Atmospheric Scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan. He will co-chair the program with Dr. Pachauri, who also serves as director general of The Energy and Resources Institute in India, and California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols. A $488,000 grant from the World Bank will provide seed money to the program.

“Transport activity, a key component of economic development and human welfare, is increasing around the world as economic activities expand,” said Pachauri. “In 2004, the transport sector produced 23 percent of world energy-related CO2 emissions. Yet the majority of the world’s population still does not own personal vehicles and many do not have access to motorized transport; but this situation is changing rapidly. For most policymakers, the most pressing problems associated with this increasing transport activity are traffic fatalities and injuries, congestion, air pollution, and petroleum dependence. These problems are especially acute in the developing world. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions can reduce these problems on account of synergies and co-benefits associated with mitigation measures.”

“These types of partnerships – among academia, government, and industry – are what we need to solve our world’s most complex challenges,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla.  “This new initiative will address important environmental and health concerns, and also encourage sustainable actions that will protect our planet.”

Ramanathan led a team of scientists from UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, and Department of Energy labs, which concluded that California’s clean air laws controlling emissions from the diesel-transportation sector have tremendously reduced air pollution in the state, as well as its contribution to global warming.  Black carbon (also known as soot) is the major component of especially fine particles less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter known as PM2.5 that come from diesel exhaust. Worldwide illnesses related to the inhalation of PM2.5 kill 3.5 million people every year.

Black carbon concentrations in rural as well as urban areas of California have decreased by about 90 percent from the 1960s to 2010 in spite of the fact that diesel consumption has gone up by a factor of four.

“California’s pioneering efforts to reduce air pollution from our transportation and other sectors have reduced toxic air pollutants and black carbon—bringing substantial health benefits to Californians while helping combat climate change,” said Nichols. “Sharing what we’ve learned by establishing a long-term dialog with India is significant as it is one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is a critical partner in improving public health and addressing global climate change.”

Over several decades of research, Ramanathan has concluded that control of black carbon aerosols, along with the greenhouse gases methane, ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons, is an effective method to immediately slow the pace of global warming.  These aerosols and gases remain in the atmosphere for periods of weeks to less than a decade – much shorter periods of time than carbon dioxide’s duration. Their combined global warming effect is second only to carbon dioxide among human-generated climate change agents.  Reducing the emissions of these short-lived climate warming pollutants using available technologies can reduce projected warming in coming decades by as much as 50 percent and reduce end-of-century sea-level rise by about 22 percent to 42 percent.

“Short-lived climate pollutants offer the important opportunity to address the risk of climate change while reducing the impacts of air pollution on public health and protecting agricultural production, all of which are important to the mission of the World Bank,” said Chandra Shekhar Sinha, program manager of Climate Change in the South Asia Region of the World Bank. “We are pleased to be a part of the effort to address the challenge through the exchange with California’s experience through the distinguished teams of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, TERI, and the California Air Resources Board.”

The Air Resources Board-funded study by Ramanathan released in June concluded that diesel control measures in place since the 1960s remove the equivalent of 21 million tons of carbon dioxide from the air every year. In terms of reducing global warming, that is the equivalent of removing 4 million cars from California roads.

“It makes me very proud that Scripps scientists are not just producing world-caliber research but are actively engaged in applying that research to some of society's most compelling problems,” said Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, Director Margaret Leinen.

Control of black carbon and the other short-lived pollutants has the additional societal benefit of alleviating the air pollution that leads to reduced crop yields and the premature deaths of millions of people worldwide.  The diesel transportation sector, along with emissions from industry and biomass cooking are the major sources of black carbon and other air pollutants.

The problem is especially acute in regions such as northern India, where heavily polluted air amasses for months on end, forming what Ramanathan has termed an atmospheric brown cloud. The cloud has been observed to be as much as 3 kilometers thick at various times of the year. An estimated 620,000 people in India alone die because of the outdoor air pollution that contributes to the cloud.  Such brown clouds were prevalent in Los Angeles and other California cities until the 1970s. In response, California initiated aggressive air pollution mitigation programs.

 

 The workshop will address the logistics of bringing the technology used in California – from particulate filters in truck exhaust systems to emissions diagnostic equipment – to India. Participants will reconvene in New Delhi, India in February 2014 in a policy conclave. The India central government as well as the Indian states of Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, and Uttarakhand will be represented at the Oakland workshop.

“California has demonstrated that cleaning up the air does not necessarily deter economic development. Perhaps this is what made it attractive for policymakers from the highest levels of India to join the ICAMP initiative and develop actions plans for Indian cities,” said Ramanathan.

 

 

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