Washington — The United States and a group of international partners launched a new battle in the campaign against climate change February 16, forming a coalition to reduce the release of a subgroup of greenhouse gases (GHG) that have an oversized effect on global warming.
The Climate and Clean Air Coalition will target methane, soot and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), which account for one-third of global warming according to researchers. Implementing an array of relatively simple control measures — such as reducing agricultural burn-offs and emissions from diesel engines — will slow global warming a significant amount.
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the new coalition in a State Department ceremony. She was joined by ministers from the partner nations of Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden and the head of the U.N. Environment Programme, which will serve as the secretariat for the new coalition.
“The Climate and Clean Air Coalition will spread practical ideas and practices regarding so-called short-lived pollutants which remain in the atmosphere for only a short time,” Clinton said. Acknowledging that excessive carbon dioxide emissions remain the most serious cause of climate change, Clinton said these pollutants also have serious adverse consequences in the damage they do to crops and to individual health.
“Millions die annually from constantly breathing in black-carbon soot that comes from cookstoves in their own homes, from diesel cars and trucks on their roads, from the open burning of agricultural waste in their fields,” Clinton said. Methane, another GHG to be targeted by this coalition, is a precursor to ground-level ozone, another health irritant.
Emissions of these pollutants can be controlled with existing knowledge through such actions as installing filters in diesel vehicles and upgrading cooking stoves and boilers to use cleaner-burning fuels. The Obama administration is already pursuing these actions with the imposition of tougher emissions standards for diesel vehicles domestically and an international program to help developing-world families adopt cleaner technologies for cooking at home, the Clean Cookstove Initiative.
Lisa Jackson, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, joined the secretary of state for the announcement and described another U.S. program to help countries reduce methane emissions. Jackson said the United States has invested $60 million in methane-reduction programs in 18 countries over the last several years.
“This is truly a great day for the global environment and all who share it,” said Canadian Environment Minister Peter Kent. He called the new coalition’s emphasis on practical approaches to reducing the short-lived pollutants a key component to international activities to address climate change, notably the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
He also cited Canada’s interest in its Arctic territories and the need for action to contain the effects of climate change that are already visible in the world’s northernmost reaches.
Representatives from five partner nations also delivered remarks. Bangladesh Minister of Environment Hasan Mahmud cited evidence that the targeted pollutants cause more than 500,000 deaths in South Asia each year. His country is pursuing action to reduce these emissions. “More than 400,000 improved and efficient cookstoves have been distributed, replacing conventional inefficient cookstoves,” he said.
Mahmud said the coalition should promote knowledge-sharing and good practices to make further reductions in GHGs.
Mexican Secretary of the Environment and Natural Resources Juan Elvira said climate change initiatives are gaining momentum in his country with new strategies being implemented in all of its 31 states and 200 municipalities also developing initiatives. He said the new coalition will be “transformative at technical and political levels,” and expressed hope that more nations will get involved.
Swedish Minister of Environment Lena Ek said the Climate and Clean Air Coalition will be “a collation for action, not talking.”
U.N. Environment Programme Executive Director Achim Steiner, who will play a significant role in the day-to-day operations of the coalition, focused his remarks on the international teams of researchers whose work has revealed the significant impact of the short-lived gases.
These scientists, Steiner said, are “allowing us to unravel and comprehend what is happening in our world,” but policymakers must see the opportunity to take action on their findings. The formation of this coalition, Steiner said, is a tribute to that spirit of action.
The scientific case for taking these actions has been building for almost a decade, but one of the definitive studies was released just in January. Led by Drew Shindell of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the research found that reductions of these particular GHGs could increase global crop yields by up to 135 million metric tons per season. Further, hundreds of thousands of premature deaths due to respiratory problems would be prevented with implementation of pollution-reduction methods.
“We’ve shown that implementing specific practical emissions reductions chosen to maximize climate benefits also would have important ‘win-win’ benefits for human health and agriculture,” Shindell said on release of that study.
Soot emissions — also called black carbon — result from burning fossil fuels or biomass. They can worsen a variety of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. They aggravate global warming by absorbing radiation from the sun. Widely emitted from smokestacks and chimneys, they eventually settle back down to earth, darkening ice and snow, reducing reflectivity and pushing temperatures higher.
Colorless and flammable methane is a precursor to ground-level ozone, which is linked to smog and a number of respiratory problems.