Senator Chris Murphy speaking at EESI's briefing on
short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP)
On September 16, the International Day of the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) held a briefing, Fast-Action Climate Mitigation: A Focus on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants , with a distinguished panel that included Senator Chris Murphy (D-CA) and U.N. Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner . The briefing addressed regional and global efforts to curb hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including black carbon and methane. The speakers discussed the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of technologies tackling SLCPs, and examined the immediate climate, agricultural and health benefits of doing so.

Senator Chris Murphy opened up the briefing, stating his support for the efforts by the State Department and United Nations to mitigate SLCPs. He emphasized that eliminating HFCs would not only help cut the rate of climate change, it would also provide quick economic and health benefits to industry and consumers. Senator Murphy announced that he and Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Al Franken (D-MN) would soon be introducing legislation on this issue. UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner also called for immediate action in SLCP mitigation, including 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. Durwood Zaelke , President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development, later restated that eliminating HFCs through the Montreal Protocol would be "big, fast and cheap," being achievable at a cost of $0.05 per ton of CO2 equivalent. Eliminating HFCs alone would help avoid 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050.

HFCs were originally introduced as a replacement for ozone-depleting chemicals, as per the 1987 Montreal Protocol. Although posing no threat to the ozone layer, HFCs are the fastest-growing source of climate emissions, having up to 12,000 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. While the major efforts of climate change are rightfully focused on CO2 reduction, SLCP reduction can provide immediate and dramatic benefits. The science is clear and compelling, the reductions are achievable, and industry is comfortable with phasing out HFCs, according to Dr. Mack McFarland , the Global Environmental Manager of DuPont Fluorochemicals. Dr. McFarland pointed out that an HFC 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.

Fortunately, an international coalition has lined up to reduce HFCs and other short-lived climate pollutants. Launched in 2012 by UNEP, the United States and five additional countries, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) has grown to 34 state partners and 33 non-state partners and is leading the way on international action to reduce SLCPs. The State Department is actively working with these 70 international partners as part of CCAC, said David Turk , Counselor to the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change. In a very significant development during their recent September 5-6 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, the G20 countries announced an agreement to collaborate on multilateral approaches to scale down the use of HFCs, hours after the United States and China reached a bilateral agreement to phase down HFCs within the Montreal Protocol framework.

In terms of domestic legislative efforts, the House and Senate are working together to curb SLCPs. The Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction (SUPER) Act of 2013 (H.R. 1943), introduced earlier in May by Rep. Scott Peters (D-CA), would create a task force to review existing federal, state, and local policies, laws, and regulations. The task force would then coordinate overlaps, fill gaps, and provide for more efficient and effective practices to eliminate super pollutants, according to Lumay Wang , Legislative Assistant for Rep. Peters. Domestic political support is essential to furthering the international agenda on SLCPs, added Jesse Young, Legislative Assistant to Sen. Murphy. Young and Wang both called for broader support and sponsors from the political and private sectors.

Ambassador Asterio Takesy of the Federated States of Micronesia, the first country to propose an amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out HFCs, was in attendance. He noted that, "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."

Author: Mengpin Ge

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