Cleaner air is accelerating global warming

Cleaner air is accelerating global warming
The unintended consequence of reducing pollution by using less fossil fuels is that clearer skies have accelerated global warming. / bne IntelliNews
By Ben Aris in Berlin November 8, 2023

New research indicates that global warming is advancing at an even faster pace than previously anticipated, with a surprising contributor: cleaner air.

The reduction in atmospheric pollution, often associated with burning coal, oil, and fossil fuels, has led to clearer skies and that means more sunshine. Paradoxically, this seemingly cleaner environment from burning less fossil fuels is actually exacerbating global warming, not preventing it.

The phenomenon hinges on the presence of aerosols, minute particles resulting from the pollution of the atmosphere. While burning coal and other fossil fuels release carbon dioxide (CO2), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) that contributes to global warming, the accompanying smog contains aerosols that reflect sunlight back into space, which has a significant cooling effect on the planet. This counter-intuitive cooling effect has been disrupted as pollution levels have decreased.

Much of the effort in reducing emissions has focused on cutting the emissions from cars, but it turns out shipping plays just as important a role, if not more so.

New regulations for smoke purification from ships emissions, introduced by the United Nations' shipping authority, the International Maritime OrganiZation (IMO) in 2020, have led to a massive reduction in pollution.

Experts have since observed that larger expanses of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans now receive more sunlight than in the past, accelerating global warming beyond previous expectations.

Sulphur particles emitted from ship fuel have a notable role in cloud formation, and the reduction in pollution post-2020 has led to increased sunshine and energy reaching vast oceanic regions.

This research backs up parallel research into the Earth Energy Imbalance (EEI) that shows changes in the climate and atmosphere, paradoxically linked to successes in reducing the use of emissions emitting fuels, means the earth is absorbing more of the sun's energy and accelerating the climate crisis.

The researchers now foresee an accelerated pace of global warming in the future, surpassing previous estimates provided by organisations such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

As with nearly all the big research papers released this year, the researchers behind this report are calling for the urgent transformation of society and action to combat these alarming trends.

If ignored, the research warns of a substantial sea-level rise resulting from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and the potential collapse of significant Antarctic glaciers later this century. Additionally, they argue that the IPCC underestimates the risk of disruptions to the thermohaline circulation, a critical oceanic process. This research aligns with recent Danish findings that have similarly surprised the global scientific community.

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