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Global Clean Air Group Makes Progress in First Year

By Charlene Porter | Staff Writer | 18 April 2013
Smokestacks with plumes silhouetted against sunset and flock of geese flying overhead (AP Images)

Coal-fired power plants steadily emit plumes of black carbon, one of the pollutants targeted by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition.

Washington — Warmer temperatures, melting polar ice and rising sea levels are focus issues for Earth Day 2013 April 22. An international initiative to address those problems over the last 14 months has mobilized governments, international organizations and world mega-cities to actions aimed at slowing warming and preventing releases of methane, black carbon and hydrofluorocarbon refrigerants (HFCs).

Known as short-lived climate pollutants, these emissions don’t have a long life in Earth’s atmosphere, but science shows they make an oversized contribution to global warming. The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) was formed in February 2012 to target these pollutants, mitigate climate change, protect the environment and preserve health.

The coalition hopes to spur action that could prevent future warming of 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050 and prevent more than 2 million premature deaths and 30 million tons of crop loss caused by polluted air.

"The CCAC has achieved remarkable progress over its first year, having grown from six to 30 country partners along with organizations like the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP), the Environmental Defense Fund and the World Bank,” said Secretary of State John Kerry in a February 20 statement recognizing the coalition’s one-year anniversary. More nations have signed on with the coalition since February, said Sandra Cavalieri, CCAC partnership adviser, giving the coalition 31 partner governments with the European Commission.

The United States was a founder of the CCAC with Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden. Newer members include the U.N. Development Programme, the International Institute for Sustainable Development and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves for a total of 60 partners.

CCAC has gained widespread support quickly because short-lived climate pollutants are harming multiple interests in health, environment and agriculture.

“I think that’s why we’ve been able to attract such diverse membership,” Cavalieri said. “We have country partners from all around the world, including Asia, Africa, Latin America and the small island states. We're really reaching out to everyone.”

The CCAC formed in response to scientific findings that air pollution control measures targeting soot and methane could result in short-term gains in improving air quality and reducing greenhouse gases. The research identified particular areas for improvement:

• Reducing methane from leaks and flares at oil and gas production facilities.

• Reducing methane emitted by municipal solid waste.

• Reducing black carbon emissions from diesel vehicles in global freight-supply chains.

• Reducing emissions of black carbon generated by traditional brick kilns and in-home cookstoves.

• Replacing HFCs, used for refrigeration, with climate-friendly alternatives.

“There is a lot of momentum,” Cavalieri said. “There is a lot of opportunity for quick wins.”

Reducing methane emitted from municipal solid waste is one of the areas where CCAC coalition members put action on a fast track. Methane seeps out of city garbage heaps at the rate of 1.3 billion tons per year, according to World Bank estimates.

“We are very excited about the progress of the CCAC Municipal Solid Waste Initiative since we launched at Rio+20 [in June 2012]," said Rohit Aggarwala, an adviser to New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who chairs C40, a mega-city network focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. C40's accelerated action on short-lived climate pollutants “will lead to emission reductions within the world's mega-cities,” said Aggarwala, commenting at the conclusion of a March meeting of international city representatives gearing up methane-reduction activities.

“These solutions will achieve not just incremental progress but transformative change at the scale needed to bring climate and health benefits at the local and global levels," said UNEP’s Kaveh Zahedi, interim head of the CCAC secretariat, at the March meeting.

Reducing the leakage and flaring of natural gas from oil and gas production facilities is another area in which action is advancing. The Global Gas Flaring Reduction Initiative — supported by the World Bank and the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration — has been working for a decade to help nations identify ways to make use of gas flare-offs, rather than allowing gas to vent into the atmosphere.

The initiative has reduced gas flaring and leaking by almost 275 million tons since 2005, roughly equivalent to taking 52 million cars off the road, according to World Bank estimates.

CCAC is aiming for further methane emission reductions through greater collaboration with the oil and gas industry.

Goals for reducing short-lived climate pollutants are within reach, Cavalieri said, as these initiatives gear up and more emerge from the development stage. Still, CCAC’s work is an adjunct to the greater work to keep global warming in check through the reduction of all greenhouse gas emissions and the use of carbon-based fuels.

“We’re trying to complement the urgent action underway for CO2 reduction,” Cavalieri said in an interview from the CCAC secretariat headquarters in Paris.