Climate change is a global challenge and requires a global solution. Through analysis and dialogue, the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions is working with governments and stakeholders to identify practical and effective options for the post-2012 international climate framework. Read more
With Secretary Clinton’s announcement this week of a new coalition aimed at short-lived climate pollutants such as methane and soot, the U.S. is helping to focus international attention on a critical but frequently overlooked dimension of the climate challenge. To maximize its leadership on this front, the U.S. should also take stronger steps to tackle these pollutants at home.
The new multilateral effort to address short-lived climate pollutants (also called short-lived climate forcers) is an important recognition of both the scientific and political realities that surround climate change. A growing body of scientific evidence underscores the importance of near-term action to slow the rate of climate change, which is proceeding more rapidly than scientists predicted. Because methane, black carbon and hydroflurorocarbons (HFCs) have relatively short atmospheric lifetimes, reductions in these compounds will have significant near-term benefits in reducing climate change. In contrast, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Reductions in CO2 are critical to limit the amount of warming over the longer term, but have more limited impact in the near term.
Eileen Claussen Comments on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution
Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
February 16, 2012
The Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution offers a promising avenue for practical action to slow the pace of global warming.
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. Nor can this new coalition take the place of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, the principal forum for mobilizing the global climate response.
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. They could prove especially critical in slowing the loss of sea ice and of glaciers that millions rely on for freshwater. Many of these measures would also protect public health by curbing local air pollution, particularly in developing countries.
At a time when comprehensive solutions to the climate challenge are not yet at hand, we need to tackle it piece by piece, pursuing practical strategies wherever we can. This coalition is a good example. If the countries launching it can deliver the resources, and succeed in recruiting others to the effort, this new initiative has the potential to make a real difference.
Contact: Rebecca Matulka, 703-516-4146
Learn more about short-lived climate forcers
There is growing recognition within the scientific and policy communities that efforts to address climate change should focus not only on substantially reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also on near-term actions to reduce those climate pollutants that remain in the atmosphere for much shorter periods of time. With atmospheric lifetimes on the order of a few days to a few decades, the primary short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are methane, black carbon and certain hydrofluorocarbons. SCLPs are responsible for 30-40 percent of global warming to date. Actions to reduce their emissions could reduce by half the amount of warming that would occur over the next few decades.
In the past few years, considerable attention has shifted to these compounds. New policies (described below) have advanced both within the United States and by the international community aimed at reducing emissions of these pollutants.
Reductions Required in both CO2 and SLCPs
To effectively slow the rate and magnitude of climate change, a strategy that significantly reduces both carbon dioxide and SLCPs is critical:
- Reducing CO2 emissions limits the ultimate amount of warming. Because CO2 represents by far the largest source of climate-warming emissions, and because it stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, large reductions in CO2 emissions are required to meet any long-term climate stabilization goal, such as the 2°C goal set by the international community.
- Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants would, on the other hand, effectively slow the near-term rate of climate change. Because SLCPs remain in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time (compared to CO2) reducing their emissions would result in more immediate benefits. In addition to limiting climate change impacts already underway, including important regional impacts such as glacial melting, SLCP reductions would reduce local air pollution and produce other co-benefits. The U.N. Environment Programme recently estimated that aggressive efforts to reduce SLCPs would avoid 2.4 million premature deaths by 2030 and reduce warming between now and 2040 by a half a degree.
Key Short-Lived Climate Pollutants
Methane has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years and a global warming potential of 25 times that of carbon dioxide. It makes up approximately 9 percent of GHG emissions in the United States and roughly 14 percent worldwide. Methane emissions result primarily from oil and gas production and distribution, coal mining, solid waste landfills, cultivation of rice and ruminant livestock, and biomass burning. Reductions in methane emissions also improve local air quality by reducing ground-level ozone, which harms agriculture and human health, and is itself a SLCP.
Black carbon (BC) results from incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels. Its major sources are diesel cars and trucks, cook stoves, forest fires, and agricultural open burning. Black carbon has a short atmospheric lifetime, on the order of a few days to weeks.
Because of a very brief atmospheric lifetime measured in weeks, black carbon's climate effects are strongly regional. BC particles give soot its black color and, like any black surface, strongly absorb sunlight. In snow-covered areas, the deposition of black carbon darkens snow and ice, increasing their absorption of sunlight and making them melt more rapidly. BC may be responsible for a significant fraction of recent warming in the rapidly changing Arctic, contributing to the acceleration of sea ice loss. BC also is contributing to the melting of Himalayan glaciers, a major source of fresh water for millions of people in Asia, and may be driving some of the recent reduction in snowpack in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
Black carbon's short lifetime also means that its contribution to climate warming would dissipate quickly if emissions were reduced. Additionally, since BC contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, reductions in BC emissions would have significant co-benefits for human health, particularly in developing countries.
Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) are a family of industrially produced chemicals widely used in refrigeration and air conditioning, foam blowing, and other applications. They were developed to replace ozone-depleting substances (primarily chlorofluorcarbons and hydrochlorofluorocarbons – CFCs and HCFCs) a few decades ago. While HFCs now contribute around 1 percent of total global warming emissions, their use is expected to grow dramatically over time. HFC-134a, the most widely used of these compounds, has an atmospheric lifetime of 13 years and a global warming potential of 1300.
Because ozone-depleting substances (CFCs and HCFCs) are also potent greenhouse gases, their phase-out under the Montreal Protocol has contributed significantly to climate mitigation efforts to date. The treaty's net contribution to climate mitigation (taking into account the growth of HFCs as replacements) is estimated to be five to six times larger than the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period targets.
Policy Actions in the United States to Limit SLCPs
President Obama included specific actions aimed at reducing emissions of SLCPs in his Climate Action Plan, announced in June 2013. The plan called for the Environmental Protection Agency to use its regulatory authority under the Clean Air Act to limit the use of HFCs where more climate-friendly alternatives are available. In August 2014, under its Significant New Alternatives Policy (SNAP) Program, EPA proposed to limit the use of certain HFCs in mobile air conditioning, specified types of foams and aerosol applications.
In September 2014, the Obama administration announced a series of voluntary commitments from chemical firms, manufacturers and retailers to move rapidly away from HFC-134a and similar compounds and to shift to more environmentally friendly replacements. The announcement also called for the federal government to shift its purchasing to products that use alternatives to HFCs.
The Climate Action Plan also called for additional domestic actions to curb methane emissions, and created an interagency task force to develop a comprehensive strategy for identifying and reducing methane emissions. As a first step in implementing this strategy in April 2014, EPA issued for public comment five white papers on emission sources and reduction technologies for reducing methane in the oil and gas sector. On January 14, 2015, the Administration announced a series of actions aimed at reducing methane emissions in the United States by 40-45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. The announcement calls for EPA to directly regulate methane emissions from new or modified oil and gas production sources and natural gas processing and transmission sources. It also calls for the agency to issue guidelines for states to reduce VOC emissions from existing oil and gas systems in nonattainment areas and within the Ozone Transport Region. The Bureau of Land Management is to take action to reduce emissions from existing oil and gas wells leased on public lands.
International Initiatives to Limit SLCPs
Climate and Clean Air Coalition: In February 2012, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the creation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. Directed specifically at reducing global emissions of SCLPs, this coalition has grown from six governments at the tine of its announcement to 36 state and regional governmental partners, and numerous international and non-governmental organizations. Since its inception, it has developed initiatives across a wide range of sectors including diesel engines, cook stoves, HFCs, oil and gas, and waste.
Montreal Protocol Action on HFCs
A proposal by the United States, Mexico and Canada would require an 85 percent reduction in specified HFCs by 2035 for developed countries, and 2045 for developing countries. While efforts in past years to achieve agreement on this or related proposals have been unsuccessful, the United States and others continue to make the case at annual meetings of the Protocol and in other multilateral and bilateral discussions for using this treaty as a mechanism for achieving worldwide reductions in HFCs. This issue will once again be discussed at the 2015 Meeting of the Parties scheduled for October in Dubai.
High-Level Bilateral and Multilateral Discussions:
President Obama and President Xi of China in a statement issued in June 2013 agreed to work together using the Montreal Protocol to phase-down HFCs.
In St. Petersburg, Russia at the G-20 meeting in September 2013, the member nations included in their final declaration a statement supporting the use of the Montreal Protocol to phasedown HFCs.
In their joint statement on Sept. 30, 2014, President Obama and Prime Minister Modi of India recognized the need to use the institutions and expertise of the Montreal Protocol to reduce emissions of HFCs.
On May 9, 2013, Rep. Scott Peters introduced the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act, which would create a task force aimed at developing strategies and actions to reduce SLCPs.
On September 18, 2014, Senators Christopher Murphy, Susan Collins, and nine others introduced a similar bill, the Super Pollutants Act of 2014.
- Bachmann, John and Seidel, Stephen, Domestic Policies to Reduce the Near-Term Risk of Climate Change. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, 2013.
This paper sets out a series of cost-effective steps that the Obama Administration can implement under existing authorities that would deliver substantial near-term reductions in the rate of climate change.
- Fast Action to Reduce the Risks of Climate Change: U.S. Options to Limit Short-Lived Climate Pollutants, Feb. 2012
- Bodansky, Daniel, Multilateral Climate Efforts Beyond the UNFCCC, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, Nov. 2011.
This report looks at a number of multilateral entities that could play a role in addressing certain of the SLCFs including: the Montreal Protocol as a possible venue for HFCs and the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution as a possible venue for BC, methane and other ozone-precursors.
- Bachmann, John, Black Carbon: A Science/Policy Primer, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), 2009.
This paper summarizes current knowledge on the effects of soot components—black carbon and organic particles—on climate, and identifies sources and technologies to mitigate their impacts. It also presents perspectives on the potential role of soot mitigation approaches in developing more comprehensive climate strategies.
- What is Black Carbon?, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (formerly the Pew Center on Global Climate Change), April 2010.
This factsheet provides an overview of black carbon as a major contributor to global climate change. It describes why reducing black carbon is a win-win scenario for both climate and health reasons.
- Read Eileen Claussen's statement on the Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution
- UNEP and WMO, Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone: Summary for Decision Makers, 2011
- UNEP, Near-term Climate Protection and Clean Air Benefits: Actions for Controlling Short-Lived Climate Forcers, 2011.
- Montzka, S.A., Dlugokency,E.J., Butler, J.H., Non-CO2 Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change. Nature, 476, 43-50. August 2011.
- Shindell, D. et. al., Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security, Science, 335, 183-188 Jan 13, 2012.
- UNEP, HFCs: A Critical Link in Protecting Climate and the Ozone Layer, Nov. 2011.
- Velders, G.J.M., Fahey, D.W., Daniel, J.S., McFarland, M, Andersen, S.O., The Large Contribution of Projected HFC Emissions to Future Climate Forcing. Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. 106, 10949-10954. 2009
- US EPA, Report to Congress on Black Carbon: March 2012.
International Forums Focused on SLCPs:
- Climate and Clean Energy Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollution
- Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's Remarks at the Climate and Clean Air Coalition To Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Initiative
- Briefing on Global Climate Change and Clean Air Initiative
- Arctic Council
Arctic Council, Progress Report and Recommendation for Ministers, Arctic Council Task Force on Short-lived Climate Forcers, 2011
- Montreal Protocol
- EPA, North American Amendment Proposal to Phase-Down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol
- UNEP, Federated States of Micronesia Proposed Amendment to control HFCs under the Montreal Protocol, May 2011
- Ministerial Meeting
Co-Chairs Summary, Ministerial Meeting on Short-lived Climate Forcers, Mexico City, 2011
Learn about the Climate Leadership Conference, Australia's new carbon pricing mechanism, the Make an Impact energy conservation challenge, and more in C2ES's January 2012 newsletter.
Statement of Eileen Claussen
President, Center for Climate and Energy Solutions
January 24, 2012
We share President Obama’s enthusiasm for homegrown solutions to America’s energy challenges. Without question, America has the resources and know-how to produce more energy at home, strengthening both our economy and our national security. But protecting the climate also has to be part of the equation. If we sensitively develop domestic reserves, get serious about ramping up new energy sources, and push efficiency across the board, we can both meet America’s energy needs and dramatically shrink our carbon footprint.
Even if comprehensive legislation remains off the table for now, we can make important progress tackling these challenges piece by piece. C2ES is working with policymakers and stakeholders on ways to expand enhanced oil recovery using captured carbon dioxide – an approach that can boost domestic oil production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Similarly, we’re working with automakers, environmentalists and others on a plan for integrating plug-in electric vehicles into the U.S. electrical grid. We look forward to sharing the results of these and other C2ES initiatives aimed at practical solutions to our twin climate and energy challenges.
Contact: Tom Steinfeldt, 703-516-4146
Read the full transcript of the 2012 State of the Union Address
The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) was named the world’s top environmental think tank in a global survey of top public policy research institutes.
The University of Pennsylvania’s 2011 Global Go-To Think Tank Rankings are based on a survey of more than 1,500 policymakers, scholars, journalists, think-tank executives and others worldwide. The survey assessed more than 5,300 organizations nominated in 30 categories to create a global list of top think tanks by region and policy area.
C2ES’s predecessor organization, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, was named the world’s top environmental think tank in the same survey in 2009. The center began operating as C2ES in November 2011, and is listed in the new survey under its former name.
“While our name has changed, we remain as committed as ever to fact-based analysis and common-sense solutions to our climate and energy challenges,” said C2ES President Eileen Claussen. “We are thrilled to again be recognized as the world’s top environmental think tank. I’d like to commend the C2ES staff and thank all of our partners and supporters in the United States and abroad for helping to make this possible.”
The independent, nonpartisan center provides impartial information and analysis on energy and climate challenges; convenes policymakers and stakeholders to work toward consensus solutions; works with members of its Business Environmental Leadership Council and others to promote on-the-ground action; and promotes pragmatic, effective climate and energy policies at the state, national and international levels.
The annual survey, first published in 2007, is directed by James G. McGann, assistant director of the University of Pennsylvania’s International Relations Program and director of the Think Tanks and Civil Society Program.
The World Resources Institute and Chatham House ranked second and third, respectively, among the study’s top 30 environmental groups. Brookings Institution was named the top overall think tank. Additional categories in which the report ranks organizations include health policy, international development, and security and international affairs, among others.
The complete study, released in January 2012, is available online here.
More about C2ES's work to advance climate and energy solutions can be found here.
C2ES's December 2011 features updates from the 17th annual Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, policy options for a clean energy standard, a blog post on the landmark new fuel economy standards, and more.
December 19, 2011
Following the dramatic close to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change's conference in Durban, South Africa, what progress was made toward a new agreement? On E&E TV's OnPoint, Elliot Diringer discusses the outcome of the Durban talks and the critical challenges ahead. Click here to watch the interview.
Click here for additional information on the Durban conference.
Australia's Carbon Pricing Mechanism
Australia’s Clean Energy Future plan is a comprehensive set of national policies aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and driving investments in clean energy. At its core is a carbon pricing mechanism starting in July 2012 and covering approximately 60 percent of Australia’s emissions. The pricing mechanism begins with a fixed carbon price for the first three years, then transitions to a cap-and-trade program. Revenue generated by the carbon price will be used to ease costs for households and industry and for investment in renewable power, energy efficiency, and other low-carbon alternatives. This brief summarizes the carbon price mechanism and other key features of the Clean Energy Future plan.
On November 8, 2011, the Australian Senate gave final approval to the government’s Clean Energy Future climate change plan outlining a series of measures to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and drive investment in clean energy. A central element of the plan is a carbon pricing mechanism directly covering 50 percent of Australia’s emissions and providing direct financial support for renewable energy, energy efficiency, reducing emissions from land-use and forestry, and other elements. The mechanism starts with a fixed price for the first three years from 2012 to 2015 (AUD 23, rising with inflation to about AUD 25 at the end of the fixed-price period). It then transitions from 2015 to 2018 to a cap-and-trade program, with a price cap and price floor. Regulations to implement the plan are being developed. Other principal elements of the plan include:
- A long-term target of reducing GHG emissions 80 percent below 2000 levels by 2050;
- Over 50 percent of revenue generated from the carbon price is returned to households, particularly low-income ones, through tax relief and greater family benefit payments;
- Revenue generated by the program, along with additional government resources, will be used to ease the impact on trade-exposed industries and workers, and boost investments in renewable power, energy efficiency and other low-carbon alternatives;
- Implementation of the plan is expected to cost the government AUD 4.3 billion over the first four years, over and above revenue generated;
- Emissions from sectors not directly covered by the carbon price, such as certain fuels and synthetic gases, are indirectly addressed through changes to existing levies and taxes;
- Politically sensitive sectors are carved out of the mechanism: agriculture is addressed separately through an incentive-based scheme, and road transport fuels are largely exempt from the carbon price;
- Three new governance institutions are established to administer, oversee, and advise on all areas of the plan.
This post orginally appeared in the Opinio Juris blog.
Was the Durban climate conference a success or failure? As always, the answer depends on one’s frame of reference.
As compared to the expectations going in, the outcome was more than I think most people thought possible. In a pre-Durban paper entitled “W[h]ither the Kyoto Protocol,” I identified three scenarios: (1) business-as-usual, with modest progress in developing the Copenhagen/Cancun framework and no political breakthroughs; (2) agreement to a “political” (not legally-binding) second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol; and (3) agreement to a Kyoto Protocol amendment establishing a second commitment period, combined with a mandate for a new negotiating process to develop a legally-binding agreement addressing the emissions of the other major economies. Many thought that (1) was the default option, (2) represented the best-case scenario, and (3) was politically unrealistic. But the Durban outcome is in fact closest to (3):
- It wrapped up much of the remaining work to elaborate the Copenhagen/Cancun process, by adopting the governing instrument of the new Green Climate Fund and transparency rules for both developed and developing countries' pledges.
- It agreed to extend the Kyoto Protocol by another 5-8 years. Although the emissions targets for Kyoto’s second commitment period still need to be worked out, and the formal amendment won’t be adopted until next year, the basic political decision to extend the Protocol was made in Durban.
- It agreed to launch a new negotiating process to develop a “protocol, another legal instrument, or agreed outcome with legal force,” addressing the post-2020 period and “applicable to all Parties.”