Up in the Air
In India, Mr. Obama makes a start on a climate partnership
29 January 2015 - One obvious area of potential [U.S. - India] cooperation was suggested by the sooty air in and around the capital while Mr. Obama was in town for lavish Republic Day celebrations. In some very back-of-the-envelope calculations, Bloomberg News estimated that exposure to air pollution during Mr. Obama’s short stay would shave six hours off his life. Unlike China, India doesn’t go to great lengths to conceal the extent of its pollution problem from its people. But as in China, India’s air pollution is harming health and contributing to climate change. The country recently became the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, behind China and the United States.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Modi made a bit of progress on this front. They agreed to proceed with an international treaty to phase out hydrofluorocarbons, short-lived but potent greenhouse gases in appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioning units.
Read the full WashingtonPost Editorial here.
Obama, Modi Agree to “Concrete Progress This Year” To Reduce HFCs Under Montreal Protocol
Obama continues leader-level campaign to eliminate potent HFCs
Deadly air pollution another target
25 January 2015 - India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Barack Obama issued a joint statement today agreeing to make “concrete progress in the Montreal Protocol this year,” building on their prior understandings to phasedown of HFCs at their September 2014 meeting.
“Today’s joint HFC agreement shows President Obama is continuing his leader-level campaign to eliminate one of the six main greenhouse gases this year using the world’s most effective and efficient environmental treaty,” said Durwood Zaelke, IGSD President. John Podesta, Obama’s top climate advisor, said the President has the “‘full commitment’ of the Prime Minister to move forward on phasing down HFCs according to the Montreal Protocol.”
“With Prime Minister Modi’s support and leadership, it is now possible to conclude an agreement this year to eliminate HFCs under the Montreal Protocol,” Zaelke added. “This will provide important political momentum for a successful climate agreement in Paris in December.” Read more from IGSD's Press Release here.
The Path to a Safe Climate Goes Through India
It seems fitting that NASA scientists announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record immediately before Prime Minister Modi and President Obama meet in India next week. Because these two leaders have a unique opportunity to set the world on a path to address more than half of the projected global warming through mid-century, a critical period for avoiding irreversible impacts.
To do this, the leaders need to extend the climate and energy agreement they reached last September, and add a program to reduce black carbon soot, methane, and ground-level ozone, the main component of urban smog. Their earlier agreement included using the Montreal Protocol to cut hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used as refrigerants and for insulating foams. During next week's meeting they can agree on a fast timetable for doing this ahead of the UN climate meeting in December in Paris, providing new momentum for those climate negotiations as well.
Read more from Durwood Zaelke and V. Ramanathan's Huffington Post Op-Ed here.
Late Night Lima Deal Sets Stage for Climate Showdown in Paris
Shifts major mitigation burden to other willing venues to slow near-term warming
Lima, Peru 14 December 2014 – The UN climate discussions in Lima crossed the finish line at a few minutes past 3AM this morning, with all countries agreeing to shoulder climate commitments in an agreement to be finalized in Paris next December, but with commitments that will be of their own choosing.
“The Lima agreement sets the table for Paris, but the deal will be meager indeed unless it is expanded to include fast mitigation from other available laws and institutions outside of the UN process,” said IGSD President Durwood Zaelke, who attended the negotiations in Lima.
“Getting all countries on board is historic. But the commitments so far will be modest from many countries and collectively insufficient to prevent the growing climate crisis. This shifts a major mitigation burden to other available laws and institutions to shoulder, including the Montreal Protocol, which is ready to eliminate one of the six main greenhouse gases. It also means that the broad UN platform will have to get stronger quickly as countries learn how to reduce their emissions.” Read more from IGSD's Press Release here.
Progress in Paris to Phase Down Super Greenhouse Pollutants
Path forward to eliminate HFCs, major climate pollutant
Paris, France, 21 November 2014 – Parties to the Montreal Protocol continued to make progress in their negotiations to phase down production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used primarily as refrigerants and to make insulating foams, opening a path to avoid the equivalent of up to 200 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from these fast-growing greenhouse gases by 2050, and to avoid 0.5°C of warming by 2100.
“We turned a corner in Paris with China and India indicating their willingness to consider how to move forward to discuss the proposed HFC phase down”, said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “The world’s two biggest countries have moved onto the winning team, and this means that the HFC amendment is now inevitable. India’s Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar brought new ideas and new energy to the meeting, and will clearly be one of the leaders going forward next year on the HFC amendment.” Read more from IGSD's Press Release here.
Progress on Fast Action to Cut HFCs Under Montreal Protocol
Ministers Highlight Importance of Controlling Fastest Growing Greenhouse Gas
Paris, France, 20 November 2014 – As the fourth day of the 26th Meeting of the Parties of the Montreal Protocol comes to a close, a unique collection of countries, including China, India, Brazil, and South Africa, along with the European Union and the United States, are calling for fast action to cut production and use of HFCs, the fastest growing greenhouse gas in the world, using the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol, while leaving accounting and reporting of emissions within the UN climate treaty. In total, more than 120 countries have called for action to cut HFCs.
Phasing down HFCs will provide the equivalent of up to 146 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2050, and avoid up to 0.5°C of warming by 2100. A fast phase down by 2020 will provide additional mitigation, equivalent to up to 64 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide.
“This is the only climate strategy where all the major countries of the world are lining up on the same side,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, who is attending the negotiations in Paris. “As Segolene Royal, the French Environment Minister, said in her opening remarks this week, the road to a successful climate treaty in Paris next December runs through Montreal.” Read more from IGSD's Press Release here.
Obama and Modi Agree on Montreal Protocol to Reduce HFCs
On September 29 India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Obama agreed on the need to take urgent action to reduce hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol, in addition to many other joint steps on climate and clean energy. According to the U.S.-India Joint Statement, the two leaders “recognized the need to use the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol to reduce consumption and production of HFCs, while continuing to report and account for quantities reduced under the UNFCCC.” They further agreed to arrange an immediate meeting prior to the November Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol to discuss safety, cost, and commercial access to alternative technologies to replace HFCs. As part of the broader energy and climate package, the United States will provide support to advance India’s capacity to address climate change and shift to a low-carbon and climate-resistant energy economy, while improving air quality and energy efficiency by making $1 billion available to finance renewable energy and new research and development institutes for developing clean energies in India.“The US-India partnership offers something critical for Prime Minister Modi’s development agenda, and advances one of Obama’s top climate priorities," said Durwood Zaelke, IGSD President.
Read what the Economist says about the Montreal Protocol here.
A Development-Savvy Climate Strategy for India
During his first official visit to the United States this week, India's popular Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, will meet with President Obama, as well as with CEOs of top U.S corporations, to encourage investment to support India's development goals, which include providing renewable energy for the 400 million citizens who lack access today.
Mr. Obama can help Mr. Modi achieve his development goals by providing a package of energy measures, including assistance to improve the efficiency of India's air conditioning sector, which can use up to half of the available electricity during the sub-continent's hottest months. At the same time, the Prime Minister can help the President with one of his signature climate priorities by supporting the phase down of refrigerants know as hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, under the Montreal Protocol.
Mr. Modi's economic agenda would benefit from using the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs, which belong to the family of chemicals called halocarbons. As Mr. Obama noted at the UN Climate Summit in New York last week, more than 100 countries support phasing down production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. During the Summit, the Montreal Protocol was hailed by The Economist magazine as the world's best climate treaty since it has almost completely eliminated other halocarbons know as chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, whose potent greenhouse effect was discovered in 1975. As The Economist noted last week, the road to Paris goes through Montreal. The journey will be most rewarding for the world if Prime Minister Modi, President Xi, and President Obama -- a troika of climate warriors -- travel it together to fight climate change.
Read more from Mario Molina, V. Ramanathan, and Durwood Zaelke’s Huffington Post Op-Ed here.
Citizens March, Obama and Other Leaders Listen, Pledge Action
23 September 2014 - Two days after the historic People's Climate March, more than 100 heads of State met the challenge from the Secretary General to step up their climate mitigation actions. A key outcome of the UN Climate Summit was the prominence of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate pollutants, and their bold ambition to cut the rate of climate change in half through the end of the century by cutting black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). This also will save more than two and a half million lives a year, and improve crop yields significantly.
The CCAC announced a series of initiatives ranging from a partnership with oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions, to a pledge to support an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase down HFCs. In his address to the Summit today, President Obama described the US efforts including an HFC amendment, and noted that, “Already more than 100 nations have agreed to launch talks to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. The same agreement the world used successfully to phase out ozone depleting chemicals. This is something that President Xi and I have worked on together. Just a few minutes ago I met with Chinese Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli and reiterated my believe that as the two largest economies and emitters in the world we have a special responsibility to lead. That is what big nations have to do.”
“The citizens’ march and the mitigation initiatives announced today will be remembered as a historic turning point in the effort to slow climate change—assuming the world follows through with a strong treaty in Paris in 2015," said IGSD President Durwood Zaelke. Read more from IGSD's Press Release here.
White House and Industry Announce Emission Reduction Collaboration on Anniversary of Montreal Protocol
Washington, DC, 16 September, 2014 - In an event hosted by the White House today, a group of industry leaders made pledges to protect the environment by reducing emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), powerful greenhouse gases that are up to 10,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide and helping to drive climate change. Participants including Coca Cola, Dupont, Honeywell, Thermal King and Unilever revealed their partnership with the Administration to invest in the next generation of safer HFC alternatives and to incorporate climate-friendly technologies into their products as a part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.
Today also marks 27 years of the Montreal Protocol, deemed “International Day for Preservation of the Ozone Layer” by the United Nations Environment Programme, this year’s theme is entitled “Ozone Layer Protection: The Mission Goes On.”
“This is another important step by the White House in their effort to capture the biggest climate prize in near term by the phasing down of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, a strategy now supported by over 100 countries,” says Dr. Stephen O. Andersen, former Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) liaison to the Department of Defense (DOD) for climate and ozone, and former co-chair of the Technology & Economic Assessment Panel of the Montreal Protocol.
Read more from IGSD’s Press Release here.
The White House HFC Fact Sheet is here.
Science report confirms Montreal Protocol's past successes, warns of future dangers
World’s best environmental treaty puts stratospheric ozone layer on path to recovery, Protects climate more than climate treaty
Washington, DC, 10 September 2014 - A report released today by the Montreal Protocol's Scientific Assessment Panel confirms that the treaty has put the stratospheric ozone on the path to recovery by 2025-2040 in the mid-latitudes and by 2045-2060 in the Antarctic by phasing out 98% of the production and consumption of over 100 ozone-depleting substances (ODS). Phasing out these 100 chemicals also has provided powerful climate protection, avoiding the equivalent of an estimated 9.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year – approximately five times more than the emissions reductions of the Kyoto Protocol’s first commitment period (2008-2012).
The science report warns of two future dangers. The first is that the climate protection provided by Montreal Protocol could be wiped out by the accelerating use of hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, which are super greenhouse gases. The report also warns that climate change itself poses a risk to the recovery of the stratospheric ozone layer, as tropical ozone levels may be depleted by changes in atmospheric circulation driven by climate change. Ozone depletion over the tropics would increase skin cancer cataracts, suppress the human immune system and damage agricultural crops and ecosystems.
“The world owes the Montreal Protocol a debt of gratitude for doing so much to protect both the climate and the stratospheric ozone layer,” said IGSD president Durwood Zaelke. “It’s now time to finish the HFC amendment, and take another big bite out of the climate problem—avoiding the equivalent of between 100 and 200 billion tonnes of CO2 by 2050, and avoiding up to 0.5°C of warming by the end of the century.” Read more from IGSD's Press Release here.
Women’s hearts at greater risk from black carbon pollution
On August 25, researchers found increased exposure to black carbon, a potent short-lived climate pollutant, significantly impacts the health of women’s hearts, according to a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. The study followed 280 women in rural China and found that exposure to black carbon from traditional wood cookstoves doubles women’s blood pressure, which directly impacts heart disease. Nearly half the world still cooks this way. Women living near highways received additional exposures of black carbon from traffic emissions, leading to three times higher blood pressure levels. Black carbon, the second leading cause of global warming after carbon dioxide, is made of tiny black particles released into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, wood, and waste. “Cutting black carbon pollution from stoves and traffic is a win-win for the climate and human health,” said IGSD President, Durwood Zaelke. “In addition, cutting black carbon and the other short-lived climate pollutants can cut the rate of global warming by half and Arctic warming by two-thirds through mid-century. We need a crash course that starts today.”
See the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America study here.
Glacial Melt Speeding Up, Sea-levels Rising
August 15th – Researchers announced that global warming from anthropogenic sources has become increasingly responsible for glacial retreat in recent decades, according to a publication in Science this week. The study found that glaciers can take decades to centuries to respond to variations in climate, and so only 25% of global glacial melt over the last century and a half can be linked to anthropogenic emissions. But since 1991, those emissions have been responsible for almost 70% of melt and as the world’s glaciers adjust to a warmer climate, they are likely to be locked into accelerated ice loss in the coming century. Shrinking glaciers are a major contributor to sea-level rise, which threatens coastal communities and infrastructure through flooding and increased vulnerability to storm surges.
Fast cuts to short-lived climate pollutants (SLPCs), including black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, methane, and tropospheric ozone are shown to be the best strategy to fight the looming threat of sea-level rise. The annual rate of sea-level rise could be reduced up to 24% by 2100 by controlling these four climate pollutants, and that cumulative sea-level rise could be reduced by 22%, according to a study by Hu et al (2013). Cutting these air pollutants and chemical coolants can cut warming in half for many decades, and, along with CO2 mitigation, is a key strategy for staying below the 2°C warming benchmark.
“The need for fast action is critical,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “Delaying SLCP mitigation by even 25 years will decrease the impact of CO2 and SLCP mitigation, and will make it difficult if not impossible to keep warming below 2°C by the end of the century.”
See the Attribution of global glacier mass loss to anthropogenic and natural causes here.
Wildfire Smoke Proves Even More Devastating for Climate, Health
Research by Stanford Professor Mark Z. Jacobson published July 30 in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres calculates that the smoke from wildfires and other biomass burning is contributing more to climate change and causing more deaths than previously understood. “We calculate that 5 to 10 percent of worldwide air pollution mortalities are due to biomass burning,” Jacobson said. “That means that it causes the premature deaths of about 250,000 people each year” and perhaps up to 435,000 a year.
Jacobson calculates that 8.5 billion tons of CO2 pollution is caused by biomass burning (about 18 percent of the 46.5 billion tons of anthropogenic CO2 emitted each year). Biomass burning also produces black carbon and brown carbon, which cause further warming. According to Jacobson’s computer simulation, biomass burning accounts for 0.4oC of the total 0.9oC warming simulated over a 20-year period (or more than 44 percent of the total). “We’ve determined that 7 percent of the total net warming caused by biomass burning – that is, 7 percent of the 0.4oC net warming gain – can be attributed to the direct heat caused by the fires,” said Jacobson.
In addition to wildfires, biomass burning includes agricultural burning and biomass for energy production, or bioenergy, which is often promoted as a “sustainable” alternative to burning fossil fuels. While fuel for bioenergy can be grown, processed, and converted to energy on a cyclic basis, the thermal and pollution effects of its combustion – in any form – cannot be discounted, Jacobson said. “The bottom line is that biomass burning is neither clean nor climate-neutral. If you’re serious about addressing global warming, you have to deal with biomass burning as well.”IGSD President Durwood Zaelke commented, “As raging wildfires are becoming increasingly common, these studies reiterate the escalating effect of climate change right now. Fast action to reduce agriculture burning and to manage the fire risk of our forests can provide critical mitigation, and save millions of lives a year.”
Read the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres Study here.
Double Blow to Food Security from Air Pollution and Global Warming
On July 27, a study published in Nature Climate Change revealed that ground-level ozone pollution is expected to increase with rising temperatures due to climate change and cause additional damage to food production. Ground-level ozone increases as temperatures rise, and slows photosynthesis and otherwise harms plants, including food crops. According to a press release from MIT, “While heat and ozone can each damage plants independently, the factors also interact.” The study calculated that climate change is likely to reduce crop yields at least 10 percent by 2050 from 2000 levels. In a “pessimistic” scenario with higher ozone pollution, crop yields would decrease 15 percent by 2050, while the "intermediate” scenario reduced yields 9 percent. “The bad news is that the double barrel damage from air pollution and climate change will be devastating for food security,” said IGSD President, Durwood Zaelke. “The good news is that we know how to clean up air pollution and save millions of lives a year, while significantly improving food security for a growing population.”
See the Threat to future global food security from climate change and ozone air pollution study here.
As Climate Impacts Accelerate, Speed of Mitigation Becomes Key
Bad news can be paralyzing, and that's a problem when it comes to climate change. The steady drumbeat of bad news can numb us. We've recently learned that a large part of the West Antarctica ice sheet is disintegrating and cannot be stopped, with ten feet or more of sea-level rise now inevitable. More recently we learned the bad news from the U.S. climate assessment, confirming that climate impacts have moved "firmly into the present," with costs mounting quickly -- more than $100 billion in the U.S. alone in 2012 -- and a near certainty that things will get worse quickly.
In the face of this news, the U.S. risks moving from climate denial to climate despair--that citizens can do little to stop impacts, that government doesn't have the political courage needed to adequately address the problem, and that industry genius will falter and not develop the technologies to solve climate change in time to avoid the worst impacts. To avoid this it would be extremely helpful to implement fast mitigation that shows near-term improvements in the climate, on a timescale relevant to politicians' short election cycles, and that can demonstrably reduce impacts and the risk of passing dangerous tipping points that set off self-amplifying warming that feeds on itself.
Can any strategy produce such fast results? Read more from Mario Molina, V. Ramanathan, and Durwood Zaelke’s Huffington Post Op-Ed here.
EPA to Ban HFCs in Cars, Grocery Stores for Fast Climate Mitigation
Washington, DC, July 11 – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced yesterday a proposal to ban the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) where climate-friendly alternatives are available, starting with mobile air conditioners, food refrigeration systems, foam blowers, and aerosol propellants, as industry leaders have successfully developed and implemented alternatives in these sectors. The EPA’s bans will cut the equivalent of 42 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2).
This is the second major step in the EPA’s continued effort to reduce HFCs, referred to as “super greenhouse gases”, under President Obama's Climate Action Plan. It follows a complementary proposal two weeks ago to approve new climate-friendly alternatives under EPA’s Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program. The US is pursuing aggressive action to phase down HFCs internationally as well, including proposing a global phasedown of HFCs under the under the Montreal Protocol. Fast reductions in HFCs globally by 2020 could provide the equivalent of up to 200 billion tonnes of CO2 in mitigation by 2050.
“The more the US does to reduce HFCs at home, the more credibility it has when it asks the rest of the world to follow its lead,” said IGSD’s President Durwood Zaelke. “The EPA bans will knock out a major part of the HFC problem in the US, and demonstrate to other countries that superior alternatives are already available.” Read more of IGSD’s Press Release here.
UNEP Mandate: Combat Air Pollution, Save Millions ofLives, Cut Global Warming in Half
On June 23 to 27, the inaugural UN Environment Assembly, attended by high-level delegations from 160 States, gave the UN Environment Programme a mandate to combat air pollution, which will save millions of lives every year and cut global warming in half in the near-term.
Among the sixteen decisions and resolutions to strengthen environmental protection and promote sustainable development, air pollution was targeted as a top priority because it is now the world’s single largest preventable health risk. According to the World Health Organization, one in eight deaths in 2012 was from air pollution—more than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined.
The Environmental Assembly’s resolution strengthens UNEP’s ongoing air pollution programs, including its work through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), the Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, and the Atmospheric Brown Cloud program.
“Fast action to reduce SLCPs can cut the rate of climate change in half, slowing global temperature rise by up to ~0.6°C by 2050 and 1.5°C by 2100, while preventing 2.4 million air pollution-related deaths per year, and avoiding around 30 million tonnes of crop losses annually,” said Durwood Zaelke, IGSD President, speaking at a CCAC side-event at the Environmental Assembly.
The CCAC also launched its new publication, Time to Act, to explain the benefits of cutting the four SLCPs—black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, the main component of urban smog, and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, used primarily as refrigerants. Read more from IGSD’s Press Release here.
Micronesia, North American Countries Propose HFC Cuts under Montreal Protocol
On May 16, the Federated States of Micronesia filed a formal proposal to phase down production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. The North American countries (US, Canada, and Mexico) filed a similar proposal. In a related domestic action earlier in May, the U.S. EPA targeted HFC reductions through its Significant New Alternatives Policy Program, proposing both to add new climate friendly refrigerants and to remove from the list of acceptable alternatives several HFCs with high global warming potential. The rules will likely revoke approval for HFC-134a.
"The U.S. proposed rules are already sending a powerful signal to global markets," said IGSD President Durwood Zaelke, “and this is helping build the consensus for phasing down HFCs globally under the Montreal Protocol.”