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Increased coal use in China and India may cause droughts

Staff writer |
Continued reliance on energy derived from coal may have an unintended consequence to the environment in the countries where it is burned the most.

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Along with all the negative health effects associated with coal-burning, the study published in the Journal of Climate concludes that if China and India keep increasing their share of coal-derived power, precipitation over a large expanse of land masses would be suppressed, resulting in drought conditions.

The researchers looked at two scenarios: one, a high-coal use future, where energy demand in Asia necessitates rapid increases in the burning of coal; and a second scenario where impacts of coal use are shifted by using cleaner-burning natural gas and renewables.

In the high-coal-use scenario where emissions double their year 2000 benchmark levels from 2030 to 2100, increased sulfate aerosols – mostly black carbon and sulfur dioxide (SO2) – released into the atmosphere would offset warming from greenhouse gas emissions including carbon dioxide.

This would result in a cooling effect throughout the Northern Hemisphere, along with South Asia and Southeast Asia. The cooling effects would suppress rainfall.

For the high-emissions scenario, we found reductions in rainfall across much of Asia, especially East Asia (including China) and South Asia (including India).


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