Headline: Climate Benefits of Cleaner Energy Transitions in East and South Asia Through Black Carbon Reduction

The state of air pollution has historically been tightly linked to how we produce and use energy. Air pollutant emissions over Asia are now changing rapidly due to cleaner energy transitions; however, magnitudes of benefits for climate and air quality remain poorly quantified. The associated risks involve adverse health impacts, reduced agricultural yields, reduced freshwater availability, contributions to climate change, and economic costs. We focus particularly on climate benefits of energy transitions by making first-time use of two decades of high quality observations of atmospheric loading of light-absorbing black carbon (BC) over Kanpur (South Asia) and Beijing (East Asia) and relating these observations to changing energy, emissions, and economic trends in India and China. Our analysis reveals that absorption aerosol optical depth (AAOD) due to BC has decreased substantially, by 40% over Kanpur and 60% over Beijing between 2001 and 2017, and thus became decoupled from regional economic growth. Furthermore, the resultant decrease in BC emissions and BC AAOD over Asia is regionally coherent and occurs primarily due to transitions into cleaner energies (both renewables and fossil fuels) and not due to the decrease in primary energy supply or decrease in use of fossil use and biofuels and waste. Model simulations show that BC aerosols alone contribute about half of the surface temperature change (warming) of the total forcing due to greenhouse gases, natural and internal variability, and aerosols, thus clearly revealing the climate benefits due to a reduction in BC emissions, which would significantly reduce global warming. However, this modeling study excludes responses from natural variability, circulation, and sea ice responses, which cause relatively strong temperature fluctuations that may mask signals from BC aerosols. Our findings show additional benefits for climate (beyond benefits of CO2 reduction) and for several other issues of sustainability over South and East Asia, provide motivation for ongoing cleaner energy production, and consumption transitions, especially when they are associated with reduced emissions of air pollutants. Such an analysis connecting the trends in energy transitions and aerosol absorption loading, unavailable so far, is crucial for simulating the aerosol climate impacts over Asia which is quite uncertain.

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Academic Articles

Ramachandran, S., Rupakheti, M., Cherian, R., & Lawrence, M. G. (2022). Climate Benefits of Cleaner Energy Transitions in East and South Asia Through Black Carbon Reduction. Frontiers in Environmental Science, 10: 842319. doi:10.3389/fenvs.2022.842319.

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Projects involved
A Sustainable Atmosphere for the Kathmandu Valley (SusKat)