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Reductions can provide fast climate and health benefits

Washington, DC, March 30, 2012 – The US Environmental Protection Agency concluded in a report to Congress released today that targeted strategies to reduce black carbon “can be expected to provide climate benefits within the next several decades,” based on black carbon’s strong warming potential and its short atmospheric lifetime of days to weeks. EPA concluded that black carbon was likely to be causing more warming than any climate pollutant other than CO2, although there was remaining uncertainty about the effects of black carbon on clouds, which still need to be resolved.

The EPA report found that “currently available scientific and technical information provides a strong foundation for making mitigation decisions to achieve lasting benefits for public health, the environment, and climate.” It highlights that cutting “BC emissions can halt the effects of BC on temperature, snow and ice, and precipitation almost immediately.” Reducing BC will also provide significant public health and environmental benefits that “often exceed the costs of control.”

“Cutting black carbon is a triple win,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development in Washington, DC. “Cutting black carbon reduces climate change, cleans the air, and saves lives.” “And we can make cuts to black carbon quickly, using existing technologies, and existing laws at the national and regional level in most cases.”

BC emissions may be responsible for half or more of the warming in the Arctic, and in the Himalayas as well. In the Arctic, the average springtime forcing from BC is 1.73 watts per square meter. This compares with global warming from CO2 of 1.66 watts per square meter. The report notes instantaneous warming of up to 20 watts per square meter in some places in the Himalayas in springtime. In the U.S., BC is reducing snow cover and overall snowpack and contributing to earlier spring melting. This reduces melt-water later in the year when it is most needed.

In the U.S. and other developed countries, most BC is from diesel use in the transport sector. For these sources, BC emissions can be reduced with ultra-low sulfur diesel, along with new engine standards and retrofits of existing engines. In developing countries, BC emissions are from residential cookstoves, as three billion people worldwide still cook with biomass or coal in rudimentary stoves or open fires. This source of BC pollution not only causes significant regional warming, it also causes more than two million deaths a year, mostly women and children.

Black carbon is one of three short-lived climate pollutants targeted by the new Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants. The others are hydrofluorocarbons, methane, and ground-level ozone. The Coalition was set up by six countries, including the US, and the United Nations Environment Programme, which will host the Secretariat.

“The SLCP coalition opens up a second front in the fight against global warming,” stated Zaelke. “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.”

See the report summary here. See the full report here.

Washington, D.C., 24 February 2012 – Phasing down the production and use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) under the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty is one of the most effective climate protection strategies available to the world today: it could substantially eliminate emissions of one of the fastest growing greenhouse gases globally. Low-climate-impact substitutes for HFCs are already available and could be quickly adopted. This is the conclusion of a paper published today in the prestigious journal SCIENCE by Dr. Guus Velders of the Netherlands and a team of international scientists, including Nobel Laureate Dr. Mario Molina.

According to the authors, many HFCs have high global warming potential and their use is increasing by 10 to 15% annually. This makes this man-made chemical the fastest growing greenhouse gas in the United States and many other countries. If not controlled, HFCs, which currently account for only 1% of total climate forcing from long-lived GHGs, could constitute up to 27% of climate forcing of CO2 by mid- century. The growth in HFCs is an unintended and negative consequence of the previous phase-out of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and the ongoing phase-out of hydroclorofluorocarbon (HCFCs) under the Montreal Protocol.

The Montreal Protocol is widely considered the most effective environmental treaty created to date. It is the appropriate venue for controlling HFCs, according to the authors of the SCIENCE paper, because this treaty already has the relevant infrastructure to accomplish a phase down of HFC, including a dedicated funding mechanism, expert panels to review the science and the availability and cost of safer substitutes, and national ozone officers in every country of the world to ensure effective implementation of any phase-down. The Montreal Protocol has all UN members as parties, and all consider the treaty to be fair. The Montreal Protocol is already the world’s most effective climate treaty having offset the equivalent of 10 billion tons of CO2 per year from 1990 to 2010 through the phase out of CFCs and HCFCs. This is a benefit, the authors point out, that could be entirely cancelled if HFC emissions are allowed to increase unabated.

“The large climate benefits of the Montreal Protocol can be preserved by limiting the expected growth in HFCs,” stated lead author Dr. Velders. “This may be accomplished by the Montreal Protocol itself, using its proven expert panels and experienced networks in every country of the world.”

In 2009 the Federated States of Micronesia submitted an amendment to phase down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, to protect countries most vulnerable to climate impacts, including low-lying islands and coastal countries already suffering from accelerating sea level rise, and agriculture-dependent countries of Asia and Africa already suffering drought and shifting rainfall. The United States, Canada, and Mexico followed with a similar proposal. The proposals would reduce 85-90% of HFC production and use, achieving climate mitigation equivalent to 100 billion tones of CO2 by 2050.

“This new paper in SCIENCE confirms that the HFC amendment is the biggest, fastest, and most politically feasible strategy the world has to mitigate climate change today,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “Indeed, the Montreal Protocol amendment could help provide the momentum for a broader climate deal under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change by showing the world that climate solutions can be fast, fair, low cost, and effective.”

Since 2010, 108 nations have signed on to a declaration supporting action to reduce HFCs. However, a small coalition of countries led by China and India has thus far prevented passage of the HFC amendment. “China holds the key to the amendment and the safety of the most vulnerable peoples and places for the next 30 to 60 years,” said Zaelke. “The question is whether China is ready to be a global leader and help the world’s most vulnerable countries.”

While efforts to amend the Montreal Protocol are continuing, voluntary efforts to reduce HFCs use are also being pursued. Last week, on 16 February, a coalition of six nations from both the developing and developed world–US, Mexico, Canada, Sweden, Bangladesh and Ghana–launched a new initiative on Climate and Clean Air to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants. These include HFCs, as well as two local air pollutants, black carbon and methane, the key precursor of ground-level ozone.

The paper is available here: Preserving Montreal Protocol Climate Benefits by Limiting HFCs


For further information see:

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.”


Measures target two air pollutants and can also save nearly five million lives a year

Washington, DC, 12 January – A new study in Science to be published 13 January identifies 14 fast action measures to reduce air pollutants that can deliver major benefits for climate, public health, and agriculture. The measures reduce emissions of black carbon and ground-level ozone, preventing 0.5°C of warming by 2050, half of the warming otherwise expected. The reductions in ozone are achieved by cutting its precursor methane. The 14 measures also save up to 4.7 million lives per year, while increasing crop yields up to 135 billion metric tons.

The study was conducted by an international research team led by climate expert Drew Shindell from NASA. It analyzed more than 400 emissions control measures based on proven technologies and determined that seven methane and seven black carbon measures would provide the greatest climate, health, and crop benefits. According to the study, the 14 measures can be implemented at costs that are many times less than the value they create, particularly when health benefits are taken into account.

“This great news could not come at a better time for climate protection,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development. “Because black carbon and ozone stay in the atmosphere only for a few hours to a few years, reducing these pollutants can immediately slow down climate change and some of its most harmful impacts while we continue to develop methods to reduce carbon dioxide.”

In addition to their overall climate impact the targeted measures are critical for protecting vulnerable regions of the world such as the Arctic, which is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world over the past 50 years, and the Himalayas, which are warming three times as fast. According to the Shindell team, the 14 measures could reduce warming in the Arctic by two-thirds over the next 30 years.

Although emissions of carbon dioxide are expected to control the planet’s long-term temperature, the Shindell team acknowledges that carbon dioxide emissions reductions will “hardly affect temperature before 2040.” “This makes these 14 near-term measures an essential complement to reducing carbon dioxide emissions,” said Zaelke. “We can minimize warming and its impacts in the near term with these fast action measures, as we develop ways to also reduce warming over the long term.”

Zaelke, along with Nobel Laureate Mario Molina, black carbon expert Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and others, published a paper in 2009 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences outlining strategies to achieve near-term climate benefits by reducing short-term climate warming agents, including black carbon and ground- level ozone. The Molina paper also included measures to phase down another powerful short-lived climate forcer, hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, using the Montreal Protocol treaty. “Cutting HFCs could add up to another decade to the delay in passing critical temperature limits,” said Zaelke.

Reducing emissions of these three so-called short-lived climate forcers—black carbon, methane, and HFCs— “is critical for protecting the world’s vulnerable peoples and vulnerable ecosystems,” said Zaelke. “When we talk about sustainable development,” Zaelke added, “this is precisely what we mean. These measures reduce climate change, save lives, provide access to clean energy, and improve food security all at once.” According to Zaelke, these kinds of measures are what the leaders heading to Rio for the 20th anniversary of the World Sustainable Development Summit in June should be seeking to implement immediately.

The findings of the new study build upon and are supported by earlier work by Professor Ramanathan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego and the United Nations Environment Programme, including a decade-long effort on Atmospheric Brown Clouds.


Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Security. Science VOL. 13 January 2012.