Default image for pages

The ongoing and projected impacts from human-induced climate change highlight the need for mitigation approaches to limit warming in both the near term (<2050) and the long term (>2050). We clarify the role of non-CO2 greenhouse gases and aerosols in the context of near-term and long-term climate mitigation, as well as the net effect of decarbonization strategies targeting fossil fuel (FF) phaseout by 2050. Relying on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change radiative forcing, we show that the net historical (2019 to 1750) radiative forcing effect of CO2 and non-CO2 climate forcers emitted by FF sources plus the CO2 emitted by land-use changes is comparable to the net from non-CO2 climate forcers emitted by non-FF sources. We find that mitigation measures that target only decarbonization are essential for strong long-term cooling but can result in weak near-term warming (due to unmasking the cooling effect of coemitted aerosols) and lead to temperatures exceeding 2 °C before 2050. In contrast, pairing decarbonization with additional mitigation measures targeting short-lived climate pollutants and N2O, slows the rate of warming a decade or two earlier than decarbonization alone and avoids the 2 °C threshold altogether. These non-CO2 targeted measures when combined with decarbonization can provide net cooling by 2030 and reduce the rate of warming from 2030 to 2050 by about 50%, roughly half of which comes from methane, significantly larger than decarbonization alone over this time frame. Our analysis demonstrates the need for a comprehensive CO2 and targeted non-CO2 mitigation approach to address both the near-term and long-term impacts of climate disruption.

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (Montreal Protocol) can be further strengthened to control ozone-depleting substances and hydrofluorocarbons used as feedstocks to provide additional protection of the stratospheric ozone layer and the climate system while also mitigating plastics pollution. The feedstock exemptions were premised on the assumption that feedstocks presented an insignificant threat to the environment; experience has shown that this is incorrect. Through its adjustment procedures, the Montreal Protocol can narrow the scope of feedstock exemptions to reduce inadvertent and unauthorized emissions while continuing to exempt production of feedstocks for time-limited, essential uses. This upstream approach can be an effective and efficient complement to other efforts to reduce plastic pollution. Existing mechanisms in the Montreal Protocol such as the Assessment Panels and national implementation strategies can guide the choice of environmentally superior substitutes for feedstock-derived plastics. This paper provides a framework for policy makers, industries, and civil society to consider how stronger actions under the Montreal Protocol can complement other chemical and environmental treaties.

Current emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) have already committed the planet to an increase in average surface temperature by the end of the century that may be above the critical threshold for tipping elements of the climate system into abrupt change with potentially irreversible and unmanageable consequences. This would mean that the climate system is close to entering if not already within the zone of ‘‘dangerous anthropogenic interference’’ (DAI). Scientific and policy literature refers to the need for ‘‘early,’’ ‘‘urgent,’’ ‘‘rapid,’’ and ‘‘fast-action’’ mitigation to help avoid DAI and abrupt climate changes. We define ‘‘fast-action’’ to include regulatory measures that can begin within 2–3 years, be substantially implemented in 5–10 years, and produce a climate response within decades. We discuss strategies for short-lived non-CO2 GHGs and particles, where existing agree- ments can be used to accomplish mitigation objectives. Policy makers can amend the Montreal Protocol to phase down the production and consumption of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) with high global warming potential. Other fast-action strategies can reduce emissions of black carbon particles and precursor gases that lead to ozone formation in the lower atmosphere, and increase biosequestration, including through biochar. These and other fast- action strategies may reduce the risk of abrupt climate change in the next few decades by complementing cuts in CO2 emissions.