'Brown haze' is blanketing Asia and changing weather, warn scientists

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The Independent Online

A two-mile-high "brown haze" of human-generated soot and greenhouse gases is blanketing Asia, threatening hundreds of thousands of lives and altering rainfall patterns, scientists warn today.

A two-mile-high "brown haze" of human-generated soot and greenhouse gases is blanketing Asia, threatening hundreds of thousands of lives and altering rainfall patterns, scientists warn today.

But the effects are being felt around the world, because the particles in the haze can travel halfway around the globe in a week, reinforcing the patterns elsewhere.

The findings come on the eve of the World Summit on Sustainable Development, which opens in Johannesburg on 24 August. But it is unlikely to be debated at the conference table.

Over Asia, the effect is damaging the monsoon by reducing rainfall, because it cuts evaporation from the oceans – and without urgent action it will worsen as the area's cities enlarge and its jungles are razed. It is already disrupting weather systems, triggering droughts in some areas and floods in others, preliminary findings suggest.

The "Asian Brown Cloud", as they call it, extends as far east as China, though the latest study was restricted to south Asia.

The pollution – which has been recognised anecdotally for decades – may be leading to "several hundreds of thousands" of premature deaths due to respiratory disease. Results from seven Indian cities suggest that by the mid-1990s air pollution was responsible for an estimated 37,000 premature deaths each year.

Klaus Töpfer, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said the initial findings just published "clearly indicate that this growing cocktail of soot, particles, aerosols and other pollutants, is becoming a major environmental hazard for Asia".

Kate Hampton, a climate co-ordinator at Friends of the Earth International, called for urgent action to tackle the causes. "This illustrates the consequences of torching forests and burning fossil fuels in vehicles and power stations," she said.

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