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New threat to feed crops

Scientitsts have warned that huge man-made clouds are swirling over the earth's surface, threatening to severely disrupt the production of animal feed crops in the future.

Scientitsts have warned that huge man-made clouds are swirling over the Earth's surface, threatening to severely disrupt the production of animal feed crops in the future.

Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs), the result of burning fossil fuels and biomass, are aggravating the impacts of greenhouse gas-induced climate change, according to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Scientists from research centres across Asia, Europe and the USA have been studying a 3km-thick layer of soot and other man-made particles that stretches from the Arabian Peninsula to China and the western Pacific Ocean.

They found that ABCs lead to the formation of particles, such as black carbon and soot, which absorb sunlight and heat the air, as well as gases such as ozone, which enhances the greenhouse effect of CO2.

The clouds are a major threat to future food production, with possible effects including damage to crops as a result of increased ground level of ozone, reduced levels of photosynthesis and huge yield losses for wheat and soya - two key animal feed crops.

Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of UNEP, said: "One of UNEP's central mandates is science-based early warning of serious and significant environmental challenges. I expect the Atmospheric Brown Cloud to be now firmly on the international community's radar as a result of today's report".

Although the phenomemon has been most intensively studied over Asia, brown clouds are also appearing across parts of North America, Europe, southern Africa and the Amazon Basin.

Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, head of the UNEP scientific panel, which is carrying out the research, said: "We believe today's report brings ever-more clarity to the ABC phenomena and, in doing so, must trigger an international response - one that tackles the twin threats of greenhouse gases and brown clouds and the unsustainable development that underpins both."