Two Scholars Awarded Tang Prize for Sounding the Alarm on Climate Change and Impact of Air Pollution

  • James Hansen, 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development
  • Veerabhadran Ramanathan, 2018 Tang Prize Laureate in Sustainable Development
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Dr. James E. Hansen, former Director of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Council of Pontifical Academy of Sciences are recipients of the 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development for their pioneering work on climate change and its impact on the sustainability of the earth. Their works lay the scientific foundation for international actions as the Paris Climate Agreement and the new global development-Agenda 2030.


Dr. Hansen is a pioneer on numerous fronts related to sustainability. In 1970s, he developed one of the first two global three-dimensional climate models, GISS, in the world, and was first to analyze and quantitatively explained the climate system's global temperature response in terms of specific changes caused by water vapor, cloud, surface-albedo feedback interactions. Dr. Hansen was the first to compile temperature records from around the world and was the first to detect the greenhouse warming signal as it emerged above the noise (natural variability). In 1988, then Director of NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies, he famously announced in televised testimony before the US Congress that “global warming is here,” as the observed temperature record exhibited an anomalous rise above the statistical noise of natural fluctuations. Dr. Hansen's testimony “was an important turning point in the history of global climate change.”


Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan was born in Madras (now Chennai), India. He is the Council of Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Victor C. Alderson Professor in Applied Ocean Sciences, UC San Diego. Professor Ramanathan has made seminal contributions to the fundamental understanding of the impact of air pollutant and greenhouse gas to the climate system. He takes direct action to advocate and facilitate effective mitigation policies to combat global warming and air pollution, a bridge between science and policy making.


Professor Ramanathan was the first to point out the very significant greenhouse effects of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). In 1975, Professor Ramanathan discovered the greenhouse effect of halocarbons, particularly chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) used in such applications as refrigeration and manufacturing. This was a significant indication that showed how gases not only CO2 but such as CFCs that deplete the ozone layer could have ramifications for climate. This finding was also at the core of future negotiations for the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer that followed in 1987. The Montreal Protocol benefits both the ozone layer and the climate system. Its effectiveness is much greater than the first phase of the Kyoto Protocol.


Professor Ramanathan’s pioneering research also led to the discovery and characterization of the so-called “Atmospheric Brown Cloud.” This work established the extremely important role played by atmospheric black carbon as a greenhouse compound, second only to carbon dioxide. He and other colleagues shined light on “non-CO2” greenhouse gases-a concept that is now widely acknowledged. Chief among them are methane, nitrous oxide, and tropospheric ozone. As a consequence of these contributions, the governments of Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the United States, together with the United Nations Environment Programme, created the “Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants”; 33 countries have subsequently joined the coalition. Professor Ramanathan has made yet another important contribution that has major public health implications for millions of families. He now leads Project Surya, which is mitigating soot emissions to improve the health and lives of people, and at the same time reduce the climate-warming impacts of these emissions from solid biomass cooking in South Asia and Africa.


In conclusion, all their works are not just of scientific interest. They underpin the global sustainability agenda. Their works helps us understand how certain human activities harm climate and environment. This scientific foundation is a pre-condition for action. Recognizing Dr. James Hansen and Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan with the 2018 Tang Prize in Sustainable Development acknowledges the extraordinary value of rigorous scientific inquiry and forthright public communication of science leading to actions for the benefit of humanity.