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U.S. Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Will Save Tens of Thousands of Lives, Hundreds of Billions of Dollars


White House/EPA Report Finds Serious Risks of Inaction, Including in Reduction of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Washington, DC, 23 June 2015 – The U.S. must curb greenhouse gas emissions, including short-lived climate pollutants, in order to avoid “serious physical and economic risks of unmitigated climate change,” according to a report released today by the White House and the EPA.  Fast reduction of short-lived climate pollutants, which include black carbon soot particles, tropospheric ozone (also known as ground-level ozone and the principal component of smog), methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs are factory-made greenhouse gases used for air conditioning and refrigeration), can cut the rate of global warming in half, and avoid 0.6°C of warming by 2050.

“[W]e can save tens of thousands of American lives, and hundreds of billions of dollars, annually in the United States by the end of this century, and the sooner we act, the better off America and future generations of Americans will be,” EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy noted in the White House press release.

The report summarizes the results of the EPA’s ongoing Climate Change Impacts and Risk Analysis (CIRA) project which works to quantify the risks, impacts, and damages of inaction, and the benefits for the U.S. from global greenhouse gas mitigation. According to the results, changes in climate due to these emissions, including increased ground-level ozone, will “exacerbate existing human health stressors, such as air pollution and disease.”  A global policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions will provide significant benefits to every sector of the U.S. economy and could prevent an estimated 57,000 deaths annually from improved air quality, and avoid up to $2.5 billion in damages from flooding by 2100.

“Cutting short-lived climate pollutants can quickly avoid climate damages, including loss of crop yields, sea level rise, more powerful storm surges and other extreme weather events,” said Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development. “Reducing near-term warming reduces the risk of setting off more powerful feedback mechanisms such as the melting of permafrost and the release of methane, which then accelerates global warming.”

Some states are already taking action on short-lived climate pollutants. Last month California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont, along with eight other subnational government leaders, signed the “Under 2 MOU,” pledging to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 to 95 percent below 1990 levels by 2050 – a per capita annual emission target of less than two metric tonnes.  This action, which includes cutting short-lived climate pollutants, is an effort to keep the global average temperature below the 2°C guardrail and avoid the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

The Administration’s release of the report is expected to build further momentum for climate action both domestically and abroad.  President Obama and the other leaders of the G7 pushed for action on HFCs earlier this month, calling for “continued efforts to phase down HFCs and calling on all Parties to the Montreal Protocol to negotiate an amendment this year to phase down HFCs.” The Montreal Protocol has already successfully phased out nearly 100 similar ozone depleting chemicals, avoiding the equivalent of an estimated 9.5 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year.

“In the lead up to the UN climate negotiations at the end of the year, President Obama and other leaders should factor in the ability of short-lived climate pollutants to reduce near-term climate impacts. Reducing these pollutants can quickly cut the rate of global warming in half, and will avoid up to 1.5°C warming by the end of the century, comparable to the 1.1°C that cutting CO2 can avoid,” added Zaelke.

IGSD’s Primer on SLCPs is here.

IGSD’s Primer on HFCs is here.