Monday, September 16, 2013—On the occasion of the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held a briefing about the benefits of reducing emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as black carbon and methane. The briefing discussed efforts to reduce SLCPs through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), as well as the recent G-20 agreement to phase down HFCs. Launched in 2012 by UNEP, the United States and five additional countries, the CCAC has grown to 34 state partners and 33 non-state partners and is leading the way on international action to reduce SLCPs. Domestically, various legislative efforts are underway, including the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction (SUPER) Act of 2013 (HR 1943), which would create a federal task force to reduce SLCPs.
Primarily used in refrigeration, air conditioning, insulation foam and aerosols, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) were originally created to replace ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), as per the Montreal Protocol. While HFCs present no threat to the ozone layer, they are potent greenhouse gases. HFCs are the fastest-growing source of climate emissions, projected to double in the next decade and eventually make up 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. They are also extremely potent, having up to 12,000 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. An amendment to the Montreal Protocol has been proposed by the United States, Canada and Mexico to phase out the use of HFCs. Additionally, the G-20 nations announced at a recent summit their official commitment to collaborate on multilateral approaches to phase-down the use of HFCs.
- Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) said there is enormous room to build upon climate actions at the international level. While there is currently an overall Congressional stalemate on action regarding climate change, the issue of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) may offer the ability to take near-term actions. Senators Murphy, Menendez (D-NJ) and Franken (D-MN) are drafting legislation that will immediately support the efforts of the State Department and the United Nations to mitigate SLCPs. Not only will the mitigation of these SLCPs help reduce temperature rise, these measures will also be in the best interest of manufacturers, industry and consumers by making processes more efficient and cost-effective.
- Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), noted that the Montreal Protocol has been one of the most successful demonstrations of the principle that nations can work together to protect the environment and human health. Now, the United Nations has an opportunity to resolve a major problem in mitigating SLCPs such as methane, ozone and HFCs; SLCP pollution-related mortality alone accounts for six million deaths a year.
- Steiner emphasized that the world needs to move quickly on this topic. Actions taken today to reduce SLCPs would be felt immediately. Additionally, positive outcomes from reducing SLCPs would give policy-makers confidence to more fully tackle CO2 and other pollutants.
- There are several "low-hanging fruits" in the area of SLCP regulation that could provide dramatic benefits to both human health and the climate. They include addressing black carbon emissions from diesel vehicles and brick manufacturing, methane leakage from solid waste and natural gas production, and the phase-out of HFCs as a coolant.
- Lumay Wang, Legislative Assistant, Office of Congressman Scott Peters (D-CA), noted that Rep. Peters introduced the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction (SUPER) Act of 2013 (HR 1943). The law will gather disparate pre-existing government programs that address SLCPs under one bill, thereby optimizing federal efforts to combat these significant drivers of climate change. The SUPER Act will use existing technologies to reduce SLCP emissions and thus positively impact health, agricultural yields and climate change. The act is strongly supported in coastal communities which are already dealing with the effects of climate change.
- Jesse Young, Legislative Assistant, Office of Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), underlined that the pending SLCP legislation will bring together commonsense measures that will have several co-benefits, such as reducing threats to both public health and agricultural practices, in addition to its positive impacts on climate change.
- David Turk, Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change, U.S. State Department, insisted the political and financial obstacles to achieving progress on SLCPs are modest. Action is achievable, and its effects in the near-term will be meaningful: the international community could decrease warming by 0.5 degrees Celsius (0.9 Fahrenheit) by 2050, positively affect agricultural productivity and reduce mortality, all of which would be huge accomplishments. While the bulk of climate change efforts are, and should be, focused on mitigating CO2, near-term action on SLCPs would provide immense benefits.
- The State Department is now working with 70 international partners as part of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC). Launched in 2012 by UNEP, the United States and five additional countries, the CCAC includes developing nations, local and regional governments, the World Health Organization, the World Bank and many others.
- Dr. Mack McFarland, Global Environmental Manager, DuPont Fluorochemicals, emphasized that the phase-out of CFCs and HCFCs under the Montreal Protocol provided huge benefits both to the regeneration of the ozone layer and to the climate. Indeed, the Montreal Protocol provided a climate benefit five times greater than the initial targets laid out under the Kyoto Protocol.
- DuPont and other companies are developing safe, cost-effective and sustainable replacements for HFCs. Two alternative refrigerants, HFOs and CO2, are up to 99 percent less climate potent than HFCs and are currently available for a variety of applications. There is a patchwork of regulations at the international and state levels, making business planning difficult. A global plan for the regulation of this class of chemicals is needed.
- An amendment to the Montreal Protocol could have a cumulative climate benefit through 2050 equivalent to the elimination of 15 years of current total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
- Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, explained that there are two key benefits to action on SLCPs. First, near-term actions using existing technologies, laws and institutions would cut the rate of climate change in half. Second, by cutting SLCPs, we can decrease warming in the Arctic by two-thirds. Protecting the Arctic can slow the positive-feedback mechanism caused by the reduced reflection from melting ice and snow, which leads to accelerated warming and risks additional GHG emissions from permafrost and methane hydrates.
- The Montreal Protocol is an existing framework that has already provided 10-times the climate mitigation provided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (which includes the Kyoto Protocol). The time to act is now. While HFCs are still only 1 to 2 percent of climate forcing, they are the fastest growing emissions in the United States, China and India.
- The benefits that would be provided by the proposed amendment to the Montreal Protocol would be big, fast, and cheap. Eliminating HFCs would provide up to 0.5 degrees Celsius cooling by 2050 by avoiding up to 100 billion tons of CO2 equivalent. This can be done at roughly the cost of $0.05 per ton of CO2 equivalent–truly a win-win!
- Ambassador Asterio Takesy of the Federated States of Micronesia attended the briefing and spoke during the Q&A session. Micronesia was the first country to propose an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs. Ambassador Asterio Takesy highlighted the very real impacts that climate change is already having in his country. "For us in Micronesia, [this problem] is existential. Much of our land has already disappeared. And if we continue to do business as usual, we will be history by 2050. That cannot be. The talks today give me a lot of hope and encouragement. But we need to do a better job of informing people that this is serious."