Update: U.S. Announces New Climate Change Initiative

UPDATED 4/27/12:  This week, the international Climate and Clean Air Coalition that we wrote about previously (see below) adopted five initiatives for action, including “Fast action on diesel emissions including from heavy duty vehicles and engines”. The Coalition also added six new members, nearly doubling membership to 13.  New members include Colombia, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, the European Commission and the World Bank. The founding members are Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, the United States and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).  Five additional countries were also in attendance as observers: Australia, Denmark, Finland, the Republic of Korea and the United Kingdom. According the United Nations Environment Programme, current pledges to implement the adopted initiatives is approximately $16.7 million with more funds expected over the coming 12 months.

We hosted a webinar earlier this week on the importance of short-lived climate forcers, specifically black carbon from diesel engines, and options for clean up.  To listen and view the presentations, visit our Webinar Archive.

Original post on February 17, 2012:

Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new initiative to combat climate change. The initiative includes the formation of an international coalition, the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, that will work together to implement solutions to reduce short-lived climate forcing pollutants including black carbon, methane and hydroflourocarbons.

Short-lived climate forcers, or SLCFs, have a short lifetime in the atmosphere, as in days to weeks and they account for 30 to 40% of global warming. Reducing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) that stay in the atmosphere much longer could take years to have an effect on global temperatures, but reducing SLCFs in the atmosphere now would have an immediate benefit by reducing climate change impacts. Focus and clean up strategies for SLCRs are not a replacement for strategies to reduce CO2 but rather are a critical addition in helping us avoid the critical “tipping points” of climate destabilization.

Last summer, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released much-anticipated reports on the issue, “Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone,” that address the extent to which black carbon would affect global temperatures and the exact role of cleaning up these pollutants. Many prominent scientists have written about the impacts of the black particles for many years  (here, and here) and concur that black carbon has a significant contribution to global warming. Last month, Science magazine also published a report by NASA’s climate scientist Drew Shindell that highlights key solutions.

According to UNEP’s findings, if reduction measures for all SLCFs were fully implemented by 2030, the potential increase in global temperature projected for 2050 could be cut in half. Full implementation could also avoid 2.4 million premature deaths and a loss of 1-4% of the global yearly production of maize, rice, soybean, and wheat.

Black carbon is an incredibly important global warming agent because it warms the earth in two ways. First, it absorbs light because of its dark color and radiates heat into the atmosphere, raising air temperature. Secondly, it also deposits on snow and ice, darkening the light surfaces, absorbing more heat and accelerating melting.  Reducing black carbon provides near-term benefits by slowing warming and ice melt. As a warming pollutant, black carbon is about 2000 times more potent than CO2.

In the U.S., diesel engines are the predominant source of black carbon emissions. According to UNEP estimates, some of the largest SLCF emission reductions (>85% black carbon removal) are obtained using diesel particulate filters (DPFs) on high-emitting vehicles.

Southern Alliance for Clean Energy is a member of DieselCleanUp.org and has been advocating for the clean up of diesel engines for years. We support diesel emission policies and funding for retrofitting, replacing, repowering and refueling diesel engines with cleaner options and idling-reduction programs. Specifically, we are actively promoting Clean Construction provisions for federally funded transportation projects, municipalities, universities, healthcare facilities and many others.

While CO2 and other greenhouse gases need to be dramatically reduced in the long term, reducing black carbon from diesel emissions and other SLCFs right now is a much-needed immediate approach in the fight to slow  global warming. To learn more about the climate impacts of diesel pollution,  check out SACE’s website and a report by the Clean Air Task Force on the topic.

We applaud the efforts by the U.S. State Department and this new coalition in prioritizing actions to reduce short-lived climate forcers. Mitigation strategies to reduce short-lived climate forcers, like black carbon, should become part of all climate mitigation efforts nationally.

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