While Ramanathan "hopes the sceptics are right" and that global warming doesn't exist, he is planning for the range of temperature changes forecast by the IPCC. Fresh back from Copenhagen, the University of California, San Diego professor revealed how he believes that removing short-lived warming factors from the atmosphere, such as black carbon, ozone, methane and hydrofluorocarbons, could buy the planet time to come up with technologies for absorbing carbon dioxide. Cutting the amounts of these pollutants, which have atmospheric lifetimes from less than two weeks to many months, by 30% in 30 years could buy the planet an extra thirty years of breathing space.

"We can do something for climate now by bringing down black carbon emissions," said Ramanathan. Particles of black carbon enter the atmosphere through processes such as forest fires and the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels. The particles have a warming effect as they absorb additional solar radiation. What's more, precipitation can deposit black carbon onto the Earth, where it lowers the reflectivity of ice and snow surfaces, making them take up more heat.

Around one-quarter of black carbon emissions are from residential cooking and heating - it's with this in mind that Ramanathan has set up Project Surya. The scheme, currently undergoing a pilot in the village of Khairatpur on the Indo-Gangetic plains in Northern India, aims to cut black carbon emissions by providing cleaner cooking technology and replacing kerosene lamps. The aim is to create a "black carbon hole" above the village that can be spotted by high-resolution commercial satellites, although at $3000 per snapshot per day, it's a pricey business.

The satellite data is complemented by measurements on the ground - so far the project has found peaks in black carbon associated with morning and evening cooking times.

Since around 3 billion people worldwide use cooking stoves with high black carbon emissions, if Project Surya proves successful and expands it could go a long way to cutting black carbon emissions.