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Issue 16
, 2009
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Why Black Carbon and Ozone Also Matter

Source: ENN, Date: , 2009

  According to an essay published in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, reducing emissions of black carbon soot and ground-level ozone would quickly make a considerable dent in the climate change problem and would also contribute to public health and protect crop yields. “The Other Climate Changers: Why Black Carbon and Ozone Also Matter,” is authored by Jessica Seddon Wallack, Director of the Center for Development Finance at the Institute for Financial Management and Research, in Chennai, India and Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a scientist and Distinguished Professor of Climate and Atmospheric Sciences at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

Black carbon and ground level ozone are ideal pollutants to target to avoid passing climate tipping points: they are short-lived in the atmosphere (weeks to a few months), meaning that the benefits of reducing them could be felt almost immediately.


Black carbon is produced largely by diesel vehicles and the burning of biomass, including in cookstoves in developing countries like China and India. It contributes to 7 percent of child deaths worldwide that result from fatal respiratory infections. Black carbon is also responsible for almost 50 percent of warming in the Arctic as well as extensive snow and ice melt in the Himalayas. Available technology such as diesel particulate filters for vehicles and cleaner-burning biomass and solar cookstoves can significantly reduce black carbon emissions.


Ground level or tropospheric ozone (different than the stratospheric ozone that blocks the sun’s UV rays) is formed by “ozone precursor” gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, and other hydrocarbons. Improving the efficiency of industrial combustion processes can reduce these gases. Besides a danger to breathe, ozone lowers crop yields. A recent study reported that ozone’s damage to crop yields in 2000 resulted in an economic loss of $14-26 billion annually.