Funerals, weddings skew South Asia emission figures

[doi:10.1038/nindia.2013.137; Published online 19 October 2013]

Subhra Priyadarshini

Across South Asia, a disturbing and hitherto unaccounted amount of smoke is making its way stealthily into the air — the kind of smoke people chose to revere, inhale and quietly ignore. This is the smoke from tonnes of incense sticks in temples, mosques and graveyards as also from burning the dead in open funeral pyres. The smoke has been adding significantly to the region’s ‘brown carbon’ and ‘volatile organic compound’ emissions but remains completely missing from national health indices or international climate models.

A researcher measures brown carbon emissions at an open air cremation site in Chattisgarh, India. © PRSU


Scientists from Pandit Ravishankar Shukla University (PRSU) in Raipur, Chattisgarh along with colleagues from the Desert Research Institute (DRI) in Reno, Nevada, USA have now accounted for the first time how much these religious practices are actually contributing to national emissions in the region 12.

It turns out that the funeral pyres alone could be contributing as much as 92 Gg/year (green house gas emissions per year) of light-absorbing carbon aerosols. This, they say, is equivalent to almost 23 percent of the total carbonaceous aerosol mass produced by human-burnt fossil fuels, and 10 percent of biofuels in the South Asian region.

Additionally, samples collected from marriage ceremonies, Muslim graveyards, Hindu and Buddhist temples in Chattisgarh state of India indicate emissions of massive quantities of carcinogenic volatile organic compounds (VOC). Extrapolated to a national scale, the figures turn out to be 0.001 Terra grams per year (Tg/yr), which the scientists term as ‘very huge’. (Total VOC emission estimate from all ritual activities was found to be 7.388 Tg/year out of which crematoria alone contributed 7.387 Tg/year).

Says Rajan Chakrabarty from DRI,” Our main motivation to investigate funeral pyres and widely-prevalent cultural practices in India stemmed from the lack of data about these emission sources in current regional emission inventories used by global climate models. Current inventories include pollutants primarily from technology-based (or energy production) sources such as fossil fuel and residential biofuel burning.”

Hence, when Shamsh Pervez from the PRSU in Chattisgarh visited DRI as a Fulbright fellow in 2011, the laid out the blueprint for the study. Their investigations began when Pervez returned to India.

An interesting thing the team found in funeral pyres were the organic carbon particles (and not black carbon) as primary emitters. These absorb sunlight and caused heating. “Conventional organic carbon aerosols are treated in climate models as non-absorbing in the visible spectrum. This class of light-absorbing organic carbon is known as brown carbon aerosols”, Chakrabarty says.

Their study on funeral pyre emissions in India and Nepal pointed out that over South Asia, one could expect not just black carbon (or soot) but brown carbon also playing a major warming effect and subsequently impacting the climate.

“We need to study this better to understand the effects of brown carbon and climate impacts over South Asia from previously non-inventoried and unstudied sources,” he points out.

Carbon aerosols are known to be the second largest anthropogenic contributor to global warming after carbon dioxide. The dark particles settling on snow make snow covers absorb more sunlight and accelerate glacial melting. Chakrabarty’s earlier work in the north-east Indian city of Guwahati revealed that alarmingly high pollution levels in the Brahmaputra river might be resulting in an outflow of pollutants into the Himalayas, melting glaciers faster and interfering with India’s monsoon cycle 3.

Between 2011 and 2012, Pervez and his colleagues hopped from marriage ceremonies to graveyards and temples to shrines in Raipur city measuring what they call the ’emission factors’ of plumes from embers and flames. Alongside the regular incense, they found people burning barks of mango and sal (Shorea rodusta) trees, cow dung, cow urine, dry leaves, oil, vermillion powder, camphor, ghee (clarified butter), cotton and grains in these rituals. The scientists then measured fourteen deadly volatile organic compounds from these samples including formaldehyde, benzene, styrene and 1, 3 butadiene.

“There are three million religious places of worship in India alone and over 10 million marriages take place every year in this country according to the 2011 census. When these results were multiplied to fit these scales, the quantum of emissions was just baffling,” Pervez told Nature India.

The scientists feel they have to tread cautiously in suggesting mitigation measures for religious practices-induced warming and health hazards since these are deeply-entrenched and culturally sensitive issues. “No wonder the cases of chronic bronchitis and lung cancer are much higher among people conducting these religious practices but that, of course, is a matter of another scientific study,” Pervez says.

He says it is possible, however, to inculcate climate and health-friendly practices among people without hurting their religious sentiments. “For example, this month during the religious Hindu festival of Sharad Purnima, which involves cooking kheer(a sweetmeat) in the open and keeping it in the open overnight in the belief that it turns into nectar in the auspicious full moon light, we advocated that people cover it with transparent sheets. It would mean that moonlight does reach the kheer and at the same time it remains untouched by the heavy load of pollutants in the Chattisgarh air.”

The advocacy bore fruit and people have taken to the practice well, Pervez says. Similarly, for religious burning practices he suggests making a start by shunning all synthetic burning materials and sticking to safer biomaterials such as wood. As of now, using the most recent Hindu and Sikh population death-rate data, they estimate that more than four tera grams of burning material is used annually in India and Nepal, with the highest amount being used in the Indo-Gangetic plains and western Indian states.

  • References

    1. Chakrabarty, R. K. et al. Funeral pyres in South Asia: brown carbon aerosol emissions and climate impacts. Environ. Sci. Tech. doi: 10.1021/ez4000669(2013)
    2. Dewangan, S. et al. Emission of volatile organic compounds from religious and ritual activities in India. Environ. Monit. Assess. doi: 10.1007/s10661-013-3250-z (2013)
    3. Chakrabarty, R. K. et al. Strong radiative heating due to wintertime black carbon aerosols in the Brahmaputra River Valley. Geophys. Res. Lett. doi:10.1029/2012GL051148 (2012)

Protests over Bangladesh coal-fired power plant near Sundarbans

Sun, 4 Aug 2013

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Environmentalists and activists are protesting the Bangladesh government’s plan to build a massive coal-fired power plant close to the Sundarbans, the world’s biggest mangrove forest and a World Heritage Site.

They say the authorities have not considered the impact of the plant on the Sundarbans’ ecosystem and the forest’s role as a valuable coastal defence against extreme weather – such as the two cyclones that battered the area in 2007 and 2009, affecting millions of people and severely damaging buildings and cropland.

Coal-fired power also is a heavy contributor to climate change, and Bangladesh is considered one of the world’s most vulnerable countries to impacts of climate change, including sea level rise, changes in weather patterns and more severe storms.

The 1,320 megawatt power plant, to be built within 14 km (9 miles) of the Sundarbans, will be jointly funded by Bangladesh and India under agreements signed last April. The Sundarbans lie mainly along the southwest coast of Bangladesh but a small portion is in Indian territory.

The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, the Ramsar Convention, has said it believes the biodiversity of the Sundarbans will face tremendous challenges once the plant goes into operation, and has expressed its concern and asked the government for detailed information on its plans.

The 1971 Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands” and their resources.

Bangladesh has sizeable coal reserves, and a consultant for the project said the government had no option but to go for coal-fired plants to meet the growing demand for electricity in this impoverished nation because the alternatives were more expensive.


“Electricity generation with fuel oil or gas is much costlier than coal. Besides, the country’s gas reserve is very nominal. So we have no other scope but to use coal for power generation,” said consultant Azizur Rahman.

Efforts will be made to minimise the impact of the project on the environment and on the Sundarbans, he said. “With modern technologies, many developed countries nowadays even have coal-based power plants inside their cities,” he said.

The government meanwhile announced a 15-year tax waiver to attract private companies interested in bidding for coal-fired electricity production contracts. Companies will enjoy the waiver if they sign contracts with the government by June 30, 2020, provided they start generating electricity by June 30, 2023.

The initial environmental examination of the Sundarbans project was carried out by a government organisation, the Water Resources Ministry’s Centre for Environmental and Geographic Information Service, which the environmentalists charge is not an impartial body.

This was followed by an Environmental Impact Assessment, but before this had been completed authorities evicted 2,500 families from the 1,830 acres of land acquired for the plant and began filling in 250 acres of the land.

Sushanto Kumar Das, president of the Farmland Protection Committee in Rampal, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation that people evicted from the project area had lost their incomes.

“The farmlands were producing both paddy (rice) and fish. More than 3,500 families were dependent on the lands,” he said.

Das said the mangrove forest had saved the coastal area during fierce storms, but would be at risk from smoke and ash fallout from the plant. If it is lost, “the area, close to the sea, will be hard hit by storms,” he said. He said he also feared that water use for the plant from the Pashur River would leave less drinking water available for people living in the area.

Abdullah Harun Chowdhury, an environmental science professor at Khulna University, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by telephone that the government had ignored the impact of the power plant on the ecosystem and wildlife of the Sundarbans.


He said that India, facing massive protests and legal barriers, had failed to build two coal power plants planned for the states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. “So India has arranged for Bangladesh to build a coal-fired plant in Rampal as an experiment, to set an example for those (it wants to build) in 2017,” he said.

The Bangladesh government did not consider the impact of the plant on the environment and the forest in this case, Chowdhury claimed. The forest, he said, may be vulnerable to ‘acid rain’ from chemicals released by the plant, and chemicals could also cause human health problems.

Chowdhury suggested setting up several tidal power plants in coastal areas instead of a coal-based plant, taking into account the environmental and climate impact.

Abdul Matin, member secretary of the ‘National Committee to Protect Sundarbans,’ said the government’s decision to build a coal power plant was self-destructive.

“The government is setting up a coal power plant and shipbuilding industry near the Sundarbans which will destroy the forest – a shield during cyclones and other storms. The government should immediately cancel the decision,” he said.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at:

The suspended particles present in air on motorway form atmospheric nuclei which by combination with water lead to fog formation.

Vehicular pollution is responsible for fog formation on the motorway in Pakistan.Scientist in Peshawar say that particles coming from vehicular pollution form nuclie which in turn on combination with water present in the air for fog.This fog is a big hurdle for traffic on the motorway in Pakistan.This fog is also responsible for throat irritation,drop in visibility and results in accidents and closure of the motorway.

Principal Scientific Officer Shahid Faruq informed in his radio interview that the chemicals present in the fog in the presence of light rays react and lead to photochemical reactions and their products are skin sensitive. These vehicular pollutants and their products also contribute to green house effects and climatic changes.
to listen the interview please click the link

GHG and cfc are the main causes of global warming.In Pakistan vehicular pollution has increased along with other forms of pollution.

Principal Scientific Officer pointed out that the gas emission from vehicles and cfc are the main causes of global warming and climatic change.Industrial pollution is adding to air,water and soil pollution and all these lead to climatic change.The gases form a shield around the globe and contain heat energy weather, albedop ,emitted or reflected from any other source and so the temperature increase which is changing the routine rains ,melting the ice and also polluting the surface and ground water.If these are not controlled and the energy sector is not made environment friendly we must wait for deadly out come.

South Asia in Search of Coordinated Climate Policy

KATHMANDU, May 16 2013 (IPS)
 – With a combined population of over 1.7 billion, which includes some of the world’s poorest but also a sizeable middle class with a growing spending capacity, South Asia is a policymaker’s nightmare. The region’s urban population is set to double by 2030, with India alone adding 90 million city dwellers to its metropolises since 2000. Over 75 percent of South Asia’s residents live in rural areas, with agriculture accounting for 60 percent of the labour force, according to recent statistics released by the World Bank.

South Asia has always been a climatic hot spot. According to Pramod Aggarwal, South Asia principal researcher and regional programme leader for agriculture and food security for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), over 70 percent of the region is prone to drought, 12 percent to floods and eight percent to cyclones.

“Climate stress has always been normal (here); climate change will make things worse,” he said. Experts like Aggarwal say that the region needs to collaborate on research, agriculture and importantly, water management to be better prepared for rapidly varying climate patterns –

Tech Transfer can help mitigate heat-trapping emissions: UNEP study

NAIROBI/ISLAMABAD: Less than one per cent of all patent applications relating to Clean Energy Technology (CET) have been filed in Africa, highlighting an opportunity for the continent to leapfrog existing fossil-fuel energy sources and; thus, cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions and bring major health benefits, according to a recent study.

A new study by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the European Patent Office (EPO)—Patents and Clean Energy Technologies in Africa—found that Africa has a huge untapped potential for generating clean energy, including enough hydroelectric power from its seven major river systems to serve the whole of the continent’s needs, as well as enormous potential for solar energy, wind energy, geothermal energy etc.

For example, hydropower, the most commonly used renewable energy source, is estimated to be utilized at just 4.3 per cent of the continent’s total capacity—although recent years have seen efforts to ramp up clean energy, with North African nations leading in solar and wind, Kenya in Geothermal, Ethiopia in hydro and Mauritius in bioenergy.

However, intellectual property and patenting in particular have been highlighted as a significant factor limiting the transfer of new clean technologies to developing countries, and identified as a barrier to these countries meeting new emission limits for CO2 and other Greenhouse Gases.

While the lack of patents filed means CETs can be freely exploited in Africa, the lack of these patents to protect their products means source companies may be reluctant to offer up their know-how to promote technology transfer.

“The development and transfer of technologies are key pillars in both mitigating the causes of climate change and adapting to its effects; patents are a crucial part of this process,” said Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson.

“In addition to an accelerated response to climate change, boosting clean energy technologies have multiple green economy benefits including on public health—for example, in sub-Saharan Africa more than half of all deaths from pneumonia in children under the age of five, and chronic lung disease and lung cancer in adults over 30, can be attributed to solid fuel use,” he added.

“The joint EPO-UNEP study is the first-ever representative stock taking of clean energy technology patents in African countries,” said EPO chief economist Nikolaus Thumm. “Its main purpose is to facilitate an evidence-based informed debate on the role of patents in the dissemination of clean energy technologies in Africa, and to promote identification of existing technology solutions in the field for technology transfer to the continent.”

The report found that of the one per cent of identified CET-related patents filed in Africa, the majority came in South Africa, meaning there has been very little activity in the remaining African states.

Also, only 10 per cent of African inventors apply for patent protection in Africa; the majority tend to seek protection in four other regions: the United States (27 per cent), the EPO (24 per cent), Germany (13 per cent) and Canada (10 per cent).

However, there are signs that the situation is changing. Despite low patent application numbers, the overall inventive activity in African countries grew by 5 per cent between 1980 and 2009, compared to 4 per cent at the global level. With a 59 per cent increase, mitigation technologies grew most significantly in that period.

Most African nations are fairly well integrated into the international patent system and an increasing number are putting in place specific patenting policies and strategies, which place significant importance on technology transfer, as part of their development framework.

As a consequence, African inventors – individuals and domestic companies active in the field of CETs – are also putting greater emphasis on patents as part of their business strategies, using the international, regional and national filing systems for patent applications in Africa and elsewhere.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 14, 2013.

Call for climate-smart brick kiln technology

KATHMANDU/ISLAMABAD: During extensive discussion among experts from 11 countries, it was concluded that negative impact of traditional brick klins on health, agriculture and climate can be tackled with replacing these with climate-smart brick klins.

Participants at the “South-South Exchange Workshop on Brick Technology and Policy” identified viable solutions to achieve this goal.

The two-day event, which concluded here today was held in Kathamndu and organized by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).

Climate experts said modern brickmaking technologies that cause far less pollution than traditional brick kiln technologies are need of the our. But it is not possible to achieve without increased political recognition of the problem, particularly in the major brick making countries of Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

Participants also shed light on the importance of inter-ministerial coordination among ministries of housing, industry, health, agriculture and environment to achieve large-scale reductions at the national level as well as at regional scales.

Bricks are a primary construction material used in many regions, and brick production is known to be a highly polluting activity, resulting in emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), such as black carbon, along with a range of other pollutants.

The workshop was convened by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) and jointly hosted by the National Institute of Ecology in Mexico and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Kathmandu.

In his opening address, Secretary Krishna Gyawali of the Ministry of Industry in Nepal highlighted the urgency of the problem and noted the brick sector consumes more than 50 percent of the total coal in Nepal. He also noted the importance of continued research on black carbon by ICIMOD and others in relation to the melting of the Himalayas and glaciers around the world.

“It is high time to accelerate mitigation of black carbon and other pollutants from key sources, such as brick kilns,” he said.

The majority of brick kilns in operation are traditional kilns, also referred to as artisanal kilns. The primary fuels used to fire the bricks are coal, wood, local biomass and any available low-cost fuel or scavenged fuel, such as bunker fuel, waste oil, used tires, sawdust, plastics, battery cases and dung.

Yet, limited access to electricity makes it a challenge to modernise and mechanise the sector, experts grumbled at the workshop.

The CCAC will carry on the discussion and consider priorities for reducing SLCPs from brick production at its next meeting in July 2013.

The story published first in Lahore Times on May 11, 2013.
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