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Coalition launches effort on ‘short-lived’ climate pollutants

Last month we previewed a new effort targeting ‘short-lived climate forcers’ to minimize global warming’s immediate impacts and buy time on the most troublesome greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (see ‘Pollutants key to climate fix‘).  As forecast, an international coalition launched the programme Thursday at the US State Department in Washington DC, unveiling a modest new fund to promote curbs on emissions of things like methane and black carbon, or soot (AFP).

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton committed US$12 million to the new fund, and Canada kicked in $3 million. Sweden is expected to follow up with additional resources, and the United Nations Environment Programme will serve as the secretariat. The founding coalition also includes Mexico, Bangladesh and Ghana. Additional background can be found in a briefing transcript posted by the State Department.

Exactly how the new programme will function remains to be worked out, but the challenge isn’t so much what to do as where to start and how to scale up. Whereas carbon dioxide poses century-scale problems that will take many decades to address, curbing a host of more powerful pollutants could help to stabilize temperatures over the near-term (this is the basis of a ‘fast-action’ agenda being pushed by groups like the Washington DC-based Institute on Governance and Sustainable Development). Targets could include brick kilns like the one in Nepal pictured at top right, or diesel engines and methane emissions from landfills and the oil and gas industry. As discussed in a recent editorial, there are also opportunities to reduce the growing climate footprint of a family of chemicals used in air conditioners and other applications.

Is the new programme enough to make a difference?

“What’s enough?” asks Ellen Baum, a senior scientist with the Boston-based Clean Air Task Force who attended the announcement in Washington DC. The scale of the problem — and its many solutions — is enormous, and clearly this week’s announcement is just a start. “Is that sobering? Yes,” she says, but at least the initiative points the world in the right direction. “Between what is enough and what we can actually do, this is a nice bite of the cookie.”

To be clear, many remain concerned that such efforts could fall short while at the same time detracting from the primary emphasis on carbon dioxide (see WWF’s statement here). For their part, supporters of the agenda on short-lived climate forcers are careful to say that these efforts should parallel, not supplant, the mainstream climate agenda.

Photo: Clean Air Task Force


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