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Asian Brown Cloud

As though we didn’t have enough to worry about weather-wise, what with global warming, the ozone hole, and the new El Niño season, UN scientists have now identified this new threat to the world’s climate.

It is a vast cloud of smog three kilometres deep, enveloping the whole of southern Asia — a soup of industrial pollutants, carbon monoxide from vehicle exhausts and particles of soot from burning forests and millions of rural cooking fires. It blocks 15% of sunlight, which reduces crop yields. It also creates acid rain, leads to respiratory illnesses, reduces rainfall and causes extreme weather events. Because the cloud is capable of being dispersed rapidly around the world, it may affect a much wider area than just Asia.

The term Asian Brown Cloud seems to have been around for a couple of years in scientific circles, but came to prominence in August 2002 in a report prepared by climatologists at the UN Environment Programme in preparation for the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg that month. The good news, they say, is that unlike other causes of pollution and climate change, this one is curable if Asians can shift to more efficient ways of burning fuels.

The “Asian Brown Cloud,” a 2-mile-thick blanket of pollution over South Asia, may be causing the premature deaths of half a million people in India each year, deadly flooding in some areas and drought in others, a new U.N.-sponsored study indicates.

Los Angeles Times, Aug. 2002

A UN-backed study released on Friday said the “Asian Brown Cloud” — a vast haze of pollution stretching across South Asia — is damaging agriculture, modifying rainfall patterns and endangering the population.

Agence France Presse, Aug. 2002

Page created 24 Aug. 2002

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Last modified: 24 August 2002.