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Cutting Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Critical for Protecting Earth’s Snow and Ice-Covered Regions


Washington DC, November 3, 2013 – Cutting short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) can significantly reduce warming in vulnerable ice and snow covered areas of the world such as the Arctic and Himalayas, known as the cryosphere, while saving millions of lives and protecting ecosystems, according to a new scientific study released today.

The report by the World Bank and the International Climate Cryosphere Initiative calculates the impacts of climate change in cryosphere regions around the globe including the Arctic, Himalayas, Andes and East Africa, and describes which actions – in addition to cuts in carbon dioxide emissions – can slow these changes. The cryosphere regions are warming at more than twice the global average rate, which increases melting and sea-level rise, and increases the risk of self-amplifying feedbacks that could trigger abrupt and catastrophic climate change.

According to the report, prepared by 221 researchers from around the world, cutting SLPCs, which include black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and HFC refrigerants, would provide near-term benefits in every glaciated region of the world. Implementing 14 measures targeting methane and black carbon could prevent as much as a full degree Celsius of additional warming in the Arctic by 2050, preventing up to 40 percent of projected summer sea ice loss and 25 percent of springtime snow cover loss compared to business as usual emissions. Reductions in emissions from diesel engines, open field and forest burning, and wood stoves will have a significant impact on the Arctic, while reducing emissions from the burning of biomass and coal for residential cooking and heating will have the largest impact on the Himalayas.

“The cryosphere is changing fast as a result of climate change, it is changing today, and those changes bring increased risk to ecosystems and human societies,” says Pam Pearson, Director of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who produced the report with the World Bank. “If warming continues unabated, the risks from continuing sea-level rise, flooding and water resource disruption rise dramatically. This report makes clear that slowing cryosphere warming is an issue of global concern. Also, that action to cut SLCPs must take place in concert with ambitious efforts to cut long-lived greenhouse gases."

By protecting glaciers and snow pack, SLCP reductions could also cut the near-term projected decrease in the Amazon River flow by as much as half, and prevent up to half a meter or more of sea-level rise by 2050, according to earlier research.

“Fast cuts in CO2 emissions are necessary to stabilize long-term temperatures, but in the near term, we can cut the rate of climate change in half by cutting black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone, and HFC refrigerants. Reducing these climate pollutants is the only way to protect the world’s vulnerable people and places in the near term,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development.

According to the World Health Organization, indoor, outdoor and tropospheric ozone air pollution kills more than six million people combined every year (see IGSD 8 March press release). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in a leaked draft report, projects that climate change could reduce global food production by 2 percent while demand is expected to increase by 14 percent every decade this century.

“We have the technologies and the existing laws in most cases to cut the short-lived pollutants today,” Zaelke added. “This includes phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol and using other complementary initiatives such as the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, the only global effort focusing on these pollutants.”

“Fast success on this second front in the climate battle will provide critical political momentum for a successful climate treaty in 2015,” Zaelke said.

Find IGSD’s Primer on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants here.