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Role of dust in exacerbating climate change

Deserts are the largest source of natural mineral dust present. According to IPCC, the Sahara Desert alone accounts for 40% of the mineral dust in the world. In technical terms, mineral dust is a type of aerosol; by definition, aerosols are colloidal particles dispersed in a gas, in this case, the atmosphere. Several studies indicate dust’s effects on the earth’s atmosphere. The effects of dust have also multiplied on account of anthropogenic actions. Therefore, as anthropogenic impacts on the earth increase, it is likely that dust has a role to play in climate change. 

Effects of dust on climate change

According to a study conducted in 2018, the dust load near the source region increases as global warming increases. The physical structure of dust helps trap heat from the source region. As this dust load passes over a low altitude region, the dust becomes finer, resulting in a cooling effect and subsequent formation of clouds over the sea, leading to erratic or nonseasonal rainfall and tropical storm over other regions. For example, the dust load formation in the Middle East directly impacts the Arabian sea, which helps in weakening the seasonal monsoon in India and aids in the formation of tropical storms. 

Effects on stakeholders 

Erratic rainfalls and tropical storms resulting from increasing dust load would result in a loss for stakeholders, especially investors looking to invest in sustainable farming. The physical risk of increasing dust adds to investor concerns about water management, crop harvest, and livestock health. 


Given that the agricultural sector is responsible for one-fifth of the global emissions, the sector requires earnest investments. Bridging the US $240 billion financing gap in climate-smart agriculture is possible via private sector investments. However, natural hazard risks resulting from mineral and anthropogenic dust could exacerbate the climate and business risks already associated with agriculture. 

Blended finance can alleviate these issues by reducing risks and catalysing private sector investment in the agricultural sector. Blended finance can help mitigate the risk of investors willing to invest by improving the risk-return ratio, reducing the opacity of communication and high transaction costs. Funds from multiple stakeholders, like formal and informal Finance Service Providers (FSP), agribusiness companies, governments and equity investors, are raised. The presence of multiple interventions such as credit enhancements, guarantees and concessional loans would help ease investors’ concerns. 

Mitigation strategies to reduce the high dust load due to anthropogenic reasons could include reduction in cattle grazing, controlling fugitive emissions and implementation of nature-based solutions. The latter could include solutions such as basalt rock dust (a by-product of mining) sequesters carbon in agricultural soil and restoration of coastal vegetation and mangroves to mitigate storms and hurricanes. Adaptation strategies, like climate forecasting and usage of resilient seeds, need to be put in place for the short term and long term so that the stakeholders feel safe from the future impacts of climate change. Successful adaptation would reduce carbon emissions and act as a carbon sink in years to come.

Ideally, to normalise the dust load in the earth’s atmosphere, there is a need to keep global warming below 1.2 degrees Celsius, which is ambitious currently, but manageable. Therefore, to limit the impacts of the dust load, both anthropogenic and mineral, the financing structures mentioned above and mitigation strategies can help further climate action.