Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Secretary Clinton and Allies Open Second Front In Fight Against Global Warming

Reducing short-lived climate pollutants can cut the rate of warming in half

Washington, DC, February 16, 2012 – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, and environmental ministers from five other countries announced today the formal launch of a new initiative on Climate and Clean Air to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants. These include black carbon (soot), ground-level ozone and its precursor methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), used as refrigerants and to make insulating foams. Collectively they contribute up to 40% or more of climate warming.

“The formal declaration by Secretary Clinton and her allies opens up a second front in the fight against global warming,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. “This may be the only way to reduce climate impacts in the near term, and is a critical complement to the primary battle to reduce emissions of CO2.”

Zaelke added that, “Historically this non-CO2 approach has enjoyed broad political support from conservatives, businesses, and public health advocates, and has the potential to expand the coalition involved in fighting climate change, and to build momentum for a pragmatic climate effort.”

The science supporting fast action to reduce short-lived climate pollutants has been developed over the last 25 years, with by Dr. Ramanathan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography playing a leading role, often in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Dr. Mario Molina, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, has been working on the fluorinated gases, which include HFCs, since his seminal paper in Nature on CFCs with Dr. Sherwood Roland in 1974.

Last year Dr. Drew Shindell at NASA and a team of scientists working with UNEP culled 16 primary targets for cutting black carbon and methane from a pool of over 2,000 measures. The Shindell team calculated the costs and benefits of targeting these eight black carbon measures and eight methane measures, concluding that they can cut the rate of global warming in half over the next 30 to 40 years, while preventing millions of deaths a year and enhancing food security by cutting losses of four major grains by up to 4%. A substantial part of these cuts can be done at little or no net cost. The results were published last month in Science.

Zaelke added, “Cutting the rate of global warming in half for the next 30 to 40 years is critical for protecting vulnerable people and vulnerable places for the next four decades, including the Arctic, Himalayas and other glaciers, drought-prone areas, and low-lying coastal areas. It’s also critical for food security.”

“To the extent that cutting warming in half would cut the coming impacts in half, this effort would be worth hundreds of billions of dollars in avoided damages, indeed, likely into the trillions—money governments cannot afford to waste,” said Zaelke.

The initiative of developing and developed countries was catalyzed by the Federated States of Micronesia as a way to slow sea level rise, and is designed to complement reductions of CO2, which remains the priority for climate policy. A substantial part of CO2 stays in the atmosphere warming the Planet for thousands of years.

The initiative is stating modestly with the initial coalition of six countries—three from the developing world and three from the developed world; the U.S, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Bangladesh, and Ghana. The secretariat will be hosted by UNEP. A dedicated fund is being raised, with an initial contribution of $12 million from the U.S. and $3 million from Canada for the first two years. Sweden is expected to add to the fund, and other donors will be asked to contribute in the coming months.

This funding is new and in addition to the $20 million the U.S. is currently providing for the Global Clean Cook Stove Initiative ($10) and for the Global Methane Initiative ($10 million), which already includes hundreds of projects in 40 countries. The Climate and Clean Air initiative is expected to expand rapidly to include at least 40 countries in the first two months. A ministerial meeting is planned for Stockholm in late April.

Zaelke and Nobel Laureate Mario Molina wrote in an Op-Ed published 14 February 2012 in The Hill (see below):

“The good news is that black carbon and ground-level zone can be controlled using existing technologies, and in most cases existing air pollution laws and existing institutions, at the national and regional level. HFCs can be controlled under the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty, which has already phased out nearly 100 similar chemicals and has built the capacity in every country of the world to reduce HFCs quickly.

Another critical distinction of these non-CO2 agents is that cutting them produces a fast response in the climate system. They remain in the atmosphere only for a very short time—from several days to three decades. Not so with CO2, some of which stays in the atmosphere for thousands of years.”