Speaking at the 13th World Clean Air and Environmental Protection congress, Professor Meinrat Andreae of the Max Planck Institute in Germany said that the presence of aerosol gases in the atmosphere could have actually been protecting the earth from feeling the full force of climate change (see related story).

Research conducted by Professor Andreae shows that a cooling effect caused by aerosols in the air, which scatter light back to space, could have reduced the acceleration of the warming effect on the earth. However, this would simply be delaying the catastrophic end results of climate change.

“Warming will be especially fast if large aerosol cooling has hidden a higher climate sensitivity than has been generally assumed,” he said. “Aerosols may have protected us from greenhouse warming, but their protection will wane while greenhouse gases keep growing.”

Professor Andreae warned that even a small probability of such negative outcomes made it vital that there was a radical and immediate reduction in greenhouse gas emissions worldwide:

“We cannot afford to be complacent. If climate sensitivity is as high as the work on aerosol effects is suggesting, then climate change in the 21st century may well exceed the current estimates of global warming. This difference could be as different as that between the Ice Age and today’s global climate conditions.”

Director of Friends of the Earth, Tony Juniper, was concerned by the report and agreed that action urgently needed to be taken worldwide to tackle the problem: “Suggestions that climate change may be a bigger threat than previously thought are deeply disturbing. Unless the world wakes up to the threat, millions of people across the planet may suffer the consequences.”

By Jane Kettle

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