Summary

Friday, February 1, 2013--The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) organized a briefing on international efforts to reduce emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) to provide near-term climate change mitigation and improve public health and food security. These pollutants - including black carbon (soot), methane, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) - have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes but a sizeable warming impact on the climate, particularly in the Arctic and other vulnerable regions. For example, a recent major study found black carbon to have a total warming impact roughly equal to two-thirds that of carbon dioxide. Paired with global efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, action on SLCPs offers important opportunities to slow climate change over the next several decades.

To coordinate a collective international effort to reduce emissions, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) was launched in February 2012 by UNEP and the governments of Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden and the United States. Twenty-one additional countries and 22 additional non-state partners have since joined the Coalition, and the G8 has pledged its support. The CCAC seeks to improve scientific understanding, promote best practices, and enhance and develop emissions reduction strategies at the national and regional levels (learn more at www.unep.org/ccac).

The briefing described the primary sources of SLCP emissions, outlined the regional and global impacts of SLCPs on the climate and public health, and provided an update on the progress of the CCAC as it nears its one-year anniversary. The briefing also examined technologies and win-win policy opportunities to reduce SLCP emissions, discussed the vast and immediate benefits of doing so, and explored how the CCAC represents a new frontier for international cooperation on climate action.

  • Reducing emissions of black carbon, methane, tropospheric ozone and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) has important local health benefits and can help slow rising temperatures. Additionally, many reduction techniques have significant, positive economic benefits for nations and organizations engaged in their use.
  • SLCP-focused strategies need to be undertaken in conjunction with continued efforts to reduce CO2 emissions, rather than as replacements. This combination of short- and long-term climate mitigation strategies is perhaps the only opportunity to keep global temperatures from rising more than two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
  • Laura Haynes, Senior Environment and Energy Policy Advisor for Senator Tom Carper, spoke about his efforts to reduce emissions from diesel powered vehicles, including the Senator’s work on the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA). She said that for every dollar spent complying with the regulations, the United States receives $13 in health and economic gains.
  • Dr. Drew Shindell, a climatologist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, spoke about a study conducted by his Institute in conjunction with the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The study examined approximately 400 technologies to determine how they could be modified to both reduce climate change and improve air quality.
  • According to Dr. Shindell’s research, many reductions can be made in ways that are economically beneficial. Methane mitigation techniques can save up to $3,500 per ton reduced, and the majority of measures cost less than $250 per ton. Approximately half of black carbon measures are cost saving, and another quarter are regulatory measures.
  • SLCP mitigation will have both distributed climate benefits and local health benefits. If recommended measures are put in place, approximately three million premature deaths will be prevented annually, mostly in Southeast Asia and Africa.
  • If no attempts are made to reduce SLCPs, they will, as a group, eventually surpass CO2 as the primary driver of global warming.
  • UNEP began investigating the science behind SLCPs about 5 years ago, according to Amy Fraenkel, Director of UNEP's Regional Office for North America. UNEP was able to translate that research into policy when they helped launch the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) in early 2012. UNEP currently hosts the Secretariat of the CCAC and remains closely involved in its ongoing work.
  • Twenty-seven countries and 23 non-state partners are part of the Clean Air Coalition, and the G8 has pledged its support.
  • The CCAC works with member and partner nations, governing bodies, and private organizations to ensure that all measures are voluntarily agreed to and are action-oriented. The Coalition focuses on building upon existing efforts and producing results based on sound science. The governance structure was designed to be as light and nimble as possible.
  • John Thompson, Deputy Director of the Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues at the State Department, elaborated on the CCAC's goals. The organization aims to raise awareness about SLCPs, create action-oriented policies, highlight practices that are successful, and conduct the scientific research necessary to fully understand the full range of problems caused by SLCPs.
  • According to Mr. Thompson, countries are motivated to take action on this issue because of intrinsic warming concerns as well as worries related to public health, agricultural output, energy security, and energy efficiency.