UK, Germany & France join coalition against black carbon and methane pollutants

By Ed King

France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Finland, Jordan and the UK have joined the US-led Climate and Clean Air Initiative, bringing the total number of signed-up states to 21.

Launched in February 2012, the programme targets world-wide emissions of black carbon – or ‘soot’, methane and hydroflurocarbons (HFCs).

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicts that slashing these emissions could delay climate change by up to three decades, avoid the annual loss of more than 30 million tons of crops and prevent 2.4 million deaths – often from soot inhalation.

These pollutants have a shorter life-span in the atmosphere than C02, but UNEP estimates they contribute 25-30% of current emissions that are affecting climate change.

Black carbon is emitted as a result of inefficient burning from a wide range of sources, including cook stoves and diesel engines. UNEP says it is a major cause of premature deaths, resulting from outdoor and indoor pollution.

It has been linked to the darkening of snow and ice surfaces, cause them to absorb greater levels of heat and increase melting – particularly in Arctic and Himalayan regions.

Methane is a powerful ‘warming gas’, and is emitted from the burning of coal and oil. HFCs are sometimes branded ‘super greenhouse gases’, and are used in refrigeration or air-conditioning units.

Leaders at the G8 summit in May supported ‘comprehensive action’ to reduce these pollutants in the final communiqué.

The US has not passed laws to restrict greenhouse gas emissions, but its deputy special envoy for climate change Jonathan Pershing argues this is a way of buying time before a potential global deal in 2015.

“If we are able to do this we could really buy time in the context of the global problem to combat climate change,” he said.

What sectors are the coalition targeting?
(Text and data courtesy of UNEP)

Waste generated world-wide is responsible for an estimated one-third of global methane emissions — a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide and one linked to the generation of ground level ozone that is not only damaging to crops but human health.

– The manufacture of bricks in developing countries is often linked with significant emissions of toxic fumes including black carbon. A recent study in India and Vietnam indicates that modernizing 35,000 old brick kilns in the region could cut black carbon emissions by 40,000 tons equal to 27 million tons of CO2.

– The Coalition discussed many different methods of reducing black carbon from heavy duty diesel vehicles and engine emissions that are not only a health risk but contribute to melting in the Arctic. The use of low sulphur fuels opens up the possibility of one method – fitting particle or black carbon filters to heavy duty vehicles.

HFCs are increasingly being used  as replacements to CFCs in areas such as air conditioners, refrigeration and foams because they have zero impact on the ozone layer — the Earth’s shield that filters out dangerous levels of the sun’s ultra violet rays.

Studies indicate that some HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases and if these become widespread they could be responsible for emissions equivalent to 3.5 to 8.8 Gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide (Gt CO2eq) — comparable to current annual emissions from the entire global transport system, estimated at around 6-7 Gt annually.

– Venting and leakage from oil and gas systems account for over a fifth of global man-made methane emissions and represent estimated economic losses of $27 billion to over $60 billion a year. An estimated one-third of these losses can be reduced at zero cost with existing technologies and practices. Meanwhile flaring also leads to emissions of black carbon.

RELATED VIDEO: The Stockholm Environment Institute‘s Kevin Hicks explains what short-lived climate pollutants are, why they are critical to climate change and what policy measures could be introduced to cut them.

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