Climate Change Strategy to Curtail Short-lived Pollutants

To Fight Climate Change, Clear the Air (New York Times, OpEd, Nov.28,2010)

On the eve of yet another international climate conference (COP 16 in Cancún, Mexico) the author of today’s review article made a good point: instead of waiting more decades for countries to agree on what steps to take to reduce carbon emissions through improvements in energy efficiency and technology for long lived greenhouse gases- we have already waited 30 years with little to show- why not target particular pollutants which have larger radiative impacts and shorter lifetimes in the atmosphere. Ozone and particulate matter present a direct health hazard in addition to their effect on climate change – an impact readily acknowledged by the public – so that reluctance to taking action likely would not be as strong as that given to mitigate climate change. The actions needed for reducing short-lived pollutants are, by comparison, much easier to implement and have greater bang for the buck in terms of impact on both health and climate change.

Key Quotes:

“delegates in Cancún should move beyond their focus on long-term efforts to stop warming and take a few immediate, practical actions that could have a tangible effect on the climate in the coming decades”

“It will take decades and trillions of dollars to convert all the world’s fossil-fuel-based energy systems to cleaner systems like nuclear, solar and wind power”

“three short-lived gases — methane, some hydrofluorocarbons and lower atmospheric ozone — and dark soot particles. The warming effect of these pollutants, which stay in the atmosphere for several days to about a decade, is already about 80 percent of the amount that carbon dioxide causes”

“With relatively minor changes — for example, replacing old gas pipelines, better managing the water used in rice cultivation (so that less of the rice rots) and collecting the methane emitted by landfills — it would be possible to lower methane emissions by 40 percent”

“Ozone.. is a particularly hazardous component of urban smog. And every year it causes tens of billions of dollars in damage to crops worldwide. So pollution restrictions that reduce ozone levels, especially in the rapidly growing polluted cities of Asia, could both clear the air and slow warming”

“New air pollution regulations could help reduce soot. Such laws in California have cut diesel-soot emissions in that state by half. In China and India, a program to improve power generation, filter soot from diesel engines, reduce emissions from brick-making kilns and provide more efficient cookstoves could cut the levels of soot in those regions by about two-thirds — and benefit countries downwind as well.

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