Distinguished Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan’s contributions to the understanding of the role and the magnitude of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) have been fundamental to the way we understand and now address climate change.
His message on the critical role of SLCPs has been heard around the world and is motivating some of the most powerful global figures to speak out and act more forcefully to slow climate change by cutting SLCPs. Ramanathan personally advises Pope Francis, through his role on the Council for the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and California Governor Jerry Brown, among many others. Ramanathan has also been a leader in efforts to promote the "need for speed" in climate change mitigation and why this is critical to protecting public health, safeguarding the poor and most vulnerable, and slowing the accelerating climate feedback mechanisms.
His early work, identifying that chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were powerful climate forcers, played a critical role in the Kigali Amendment of 2016 to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, a strategy that can avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2050.
His more recent work shows that reducing SLCPs is the best and only way to provide significant near-term relief from increasing warming and associated impacts that won’t be addressed fast enough if the focus is only on reducing of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other long-lived gases. Professor Ramanathan and colleagues calculated that reducing SLCPs could avoid up to 0.6°C of warming by mid-century, compared to 0.1 to 0.3°C from aggressive CO2 mitigation, and 1.2 °C from SLCPs at end of century, compared to 1.6 to 1.9°C for CO2.
In September 2017, Professor Ramanathan encapsulated the immediate need for drastic climate action in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), Well below 2 °C: Mitigation strategies for avoiding dangerous to catastrophic climate changes. The paper highlighted the potential for unmitigated warming to breach uncharted territory, bringing existential threats to humanity and ecosystems around the world. The authors concluded that avoiding a bleak future was still possible through a three-pronged approach: reducing SLCPs to limit near-term warming, achieving carbon neutrality, and incorporating carbon extraction technologies.
Professor Ramanathan’s scientific discoveries have helped shape environmental policy, and as a result, and contributed to the short and long-term wellbeing of humanity. From his work on air pollution with the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), to his non-profit clean cook-stoves projects with Nexleaf, and his ground-breaking climate change efforts as part of the Montreal Protocol, Professor Ramanathan has helped outline critical pathways that hold the key to maintaining a global temperature change of ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’, the safest temperature boundary outlined in the Paris Climate Agreement.