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February 17, 2012
US Joins in Launch of Initiative to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants
    by Robert Kropp

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a partnership of the UN Environment Program and six countries, seeks to encourage reductions in methane, black carbon, and ozone that could reduce global warming and avoid millions of premature deaths.

Six countries—Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the US—have joined with the UN Environment Program (UNEP) in a partnership to reduce short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs). The pollutants targeted by the partnership are black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and methane.

According to a report published last year by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), "These short-lived climate forcers—methane, black carbon and ozone—are fundamentally different from longer-lived greenhouse gases, remaining in the atmosphere for only a relatively short time."

"A small number of emission reduction measures targeting black carbon and ozone precursors could immediately begin to protect climate, public health, water and food security, and ecosystems," the report continued.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition, as the partnership is known, "is not the answer to the climate crisis," US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said. "There is no way to effectively address climate change without reducing carbon dioxide, the most dangerous, prevalent, and persistent greenhouse gas. It stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. So this coalition is intended to complement, not supplant, the other actions we are, and must be, taking."

With initial funding of more than $15 million, the Coalition "is not an initiative to take attention away from some of the fundamental challenges we face in combating global warming," UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said. "On the contrary, it is buying us back some time that we have already lost."

Black carbon originates in emissions from motor vehicles, cooking and heating stoves that use coal or wood, and open field burning of agricultural waste. Methane is often emitted by coal mines and the production of oil and natural gas.

According to the report, emissions reduction measures targeting SLCPs would reduce future global warming by 0.5˚C and avoid 2.4 million premature deaths every year. The measures would be especially effective in Arctic regions, where they could reduce warming by about two-thirds over the next 30 years.

"UNEP has identified a package of 16 major actions," Clinton said, "which include replacing inefficient cookstoves and traditional brick kilns with more efficient ones to cut down on black carbon, stopping the burning of agricultural waste, harvesting coal mine methane, improving wastewater treatment, and adopting emissions standards on vehicles."

"Every one of the actions has already been applied somewhere, and so we know they work," she continued.

Steiner added, "Around half of the black carbon and methane emission reductions can be achieved through measures that result in cost savings over the lifetime of the investment."

However, the Coalition has not set reduction targets for the partner countries; instead, it seeks to drive the development of national action plans and fund measures to introduce efficient cooking stoves and develop methane capture technologies.

"Going after black carbon, methane and other short-lived climate forcers is no substitute for a strong, sustained effort to significantly reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, the main driver of climate change," Eileen Claussen, President of the US-based Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), said. "But targeted efforts to reduce short-lived climate pollution can moderate climate impacts in the near term while we work toward the longer-term strategies needed to rein in carbon dioxide emissions."


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