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Cutting Non-CO2 Pollutants Can Delay Abrupt Climate Change; The “Fast Action” Climate Agenda

Probability distribution for the committed warming by GHGs between 1750 and 2005. Shown are the tipping elements [large-scale components of the Earth’s system] and the temperature threshold range that initiates the tipping. From Molina et al. (2009), reproduced from Ramanathan and Feng (2008) Click to enlarge.

A “fast-action” climate agenda including reducing non-CO2 climate change agents such as black carbon soot, tropospheric ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), as well as expanding bio-sequestration through biochar production, can forestall fast-approaching abrupt climate changes, according to Nobel Laureate Dr. Mario Molina (Chemistry, 1995) and co-authors in a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Current emissions of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) have already committed the planet to an increase in average surface temperature by the end of the century that may be above the critical threshold for tipping elements of the climate system into abrupt change with potentially irreversible and unmanageable consequences, the authors write. This would mean that the climate system is close to entering if not already within the zone of “dangerous anthropogenic interference” (DAI).

“We intend our paper as a call to action.”

—K. Madhava Sarma

Noting the references in scientific and policy literature to the need for fast-action mitigation to help avoid DAI and abrupt climate changes, the authors define “fast-action” to include regulatory measures that can begin within 2–3 years, be substantially implemented in 5–10 years, and produce a climate response within decades.

Cutting HFCs, black carbon, tropospheric ozone, and methane can buy us about 40 years before we approach the dangerous threshold of 2°C warming.

—co-author Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UCSD

HFCs. HFCs are powerful greenhouse gases originally developed as substitutes for ozone-depleting chemicals. They are poised to become a larger part of the climate problem over the next few decades. (Earlier post.) HFCs are used primarily as refrigerants and in making insulating foam, and emissions are expected to grow dramatically due to increased demand for air conditioning in developing countries.

By 2050, HFC emissions could equal up to 19% of global CO2 emissions under business-as-usual scenarios. A binding legal agreement exists that can cut HFCs now—the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty—and many alternatives to HFCs have already been developed and are waiting for the right regulatory incentive from the Montreal Protocol to be deployed.

The Montreal Protocol has already delayed climate change by seven to 12 years, and put the ozone layer on the path to recovery later this century. The Montreal Protocol is critical for avoiding abrupt climate change. We have to take advantage of the proven ability of this legally binding treaty to quickly phase down HFCs.

—Dr. Mario Molina

(Dr. Molina received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1995 for his path-breaking work in 1974 that sounded the alarm on ozone-depleting CFCs.)

The small island nations of Micronesia and Mauritius submitted a joint proposal in April to phase down production and consumption of HFCs under the Montreal Protocol. North American leaders followed suit with their own joint proposal, which builds on the islands’ submission. The Montreal Protocol is an essential strategy for the island nations to achieve fast mitigation to slow sea-level rise that is already starting to destroy their countries.

Black Carbon. A neglected fast-action strategy presented in the paper is reducing black carbon soot, an aerosol produced largely from the incomplete combustion of diesel fuels and biofuels, and from biomass burning. It is now considered to be the second or third largest contributor to climate change. (Earlier post.)

Black carbon is responsible for almost 50% of the 1.9°C increase in warming of the Arctic since 1890 as well as significant melting of the Himalaya-Tibetan glaciers that feed the major rivers of Asia, providing fresh water to billions of people. (Earlier post.)

Researchers consider black carbon an ideal target for achieving quick mitigation because it only remains in the atmosphere a few days to a few weeks and can be reduced by expanding the use of diesel particulate filters for vehicles and clean-burning or solar cookstoves to replace those burning dung and wood. With indoor air pollution killing 1.6 million people a year, global action to cut soot emissions would reap major benefits for both public health and climate.

If we reduce black carbon emissions worldwide by 50 percent by fully deploying all available emissions-control technologies, we could delay the warming effects of CO2 by one to two decades and at the same time greatly improve the health of those living in heavily polluted regions.

—Dr. Ramanathan

Tropospheric ozone. Like black carbon, ground level or tropospheric ozone doubles as a major climate forcer and health hazard. It also lowers crop yields. A recent study reported that ozone’s damage to crop yields in 2000 resulted in an economic loss of up to $26 billion annually.

It is formed by ozone precursor gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, methane, and other hydrocarbons, many of which can be reduced by improving the efficiency of industrial combustion processes. Reducing tropospheric ozone by 50% could buy another decade’s worth of time for countries to start making substantial cuts in CO2, the authors said.

Biochar. Biochar is one of the few promising “carbon-negative” strategies that can drawdown existing concentrations of CO2. The fine-grained charcoal product is a stable form of carbon that can be plowed into soil where it remains for hundreds to thousands of years, also serving as a natural fertilizer. Biochar comes from cooking biomass waste at low temperatures with minimal oxygen (pyrolysis).

The other fast-action strategies can quickly mitigate emissions, but to back away from the cliff of abrupt climate change, we need biochar.

—co-author Durwood Zaelke, President of the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development

Climate policy. Although most of the world is focused on CO2 in the months leading up to Copenhagen, the authors of the paper hope that policymakers will recognize the advantages of implementing these fast-action strategies to complement reductions in CO2.

These fast-action strategies will support the long-term CO2 solution by stopping near-term climate change with non-CO2 solutions. This will bring momentum to those negotiating the international agreement and the US legislation.

—Dr. Stephen Andersen

The paper is part of a “Tipping elements in Earth systems” special feature to be published in PNAS later this year.


  • Mario Molina, Durwood Zaelke, K. Madhava Sarma, Stephen O. Andersen, Veerabhadran Ramanathan, and Donald Kaniaru (2009) Reducing abrupt climate change risk using the Montreal Protocol and other regulatory actions to complement cuts in CO2 emissions. PNAS doi: 10.1073/pnas.0902568106


Erich Knight

Biochar Fund;
1500 farmer quite Happy



I don't recall asking for anti-AGW support documents?

I'm aware that individuals and groups are actively promoting their self interests without regards for poeple's health, well being or survival.


"I worry that CO2 and other anthropogenic emissions will greatly exacerbate natural natural upswings and may cause instability and a metastable runaway condition."

This is a reasonable worry. But so far we have no firm evidence that said "exacerbation" is taking place. The preponderance of observation shows the opposite. The recent finding that the Antarctic ice pack has grown some 5 percent since satellite measurements began (about 40 years ago) confirms that increased CO2 does not play a definitive role in ice melt or sea level rise therefrom.

Interestingly this post appears to classify CO2 as a "pollutant" which will likely turn out to be a foolish mistake.


BTW how about it GCC?? I'm with MarkBC - why do we have this achronology of post ALL THE TIME NOW??



But so far we have no firm evidence that said "exacerbation" is taking place.

As soon as you have certainty that this exacerbation is taking place it's too late to do anything about it.

The preponderance of observation shows the opposite. The recent finding that the Antarctic ice pack has grown some 5 percent since satellite measurements began (about 40 years ago) confirms that increased CO2 does not play a definitive role in ice melt or sea level rise therefrom.

And you prove your 'preponderance of evidence' by cherrypicking just one apparently contradicting observation. You gotta be kidding.

How about including retreating glaciers, accelerating Arctic sea ice melt, rising sea levels, melting permafrost, persistent droughts in more than one place, ice shelf collapse and Greenland ice loss in your preponderance of evidence?

In a complex system there are always contradictions to the trend. By focusing on the outliers as if they are the trend, you are fooling yourself.



I checked up on your claim that the Antarctic ice pack has grown by 5%.

This is impossible as some simple math shows. The Antarctic ice sheet contains 30 million cubic km of ice. 5% of that is 1.5 million cubic km. The earth has ~340 million sq km of ocean. Spread out 1.5 m cubic km over 340 million sq km and that 5% growth should have caused a drop in sea level of more than 4 m. That obviously didn't happen.

So I must conclude that your 5% figure refers to sea ice area. We all know melting sea ice has a negligeable contribution to sea level rise. To conclude 'that increased CO2 does not play a definitive role in ice melt or sea level rise therefrom' is painfully showing your lack of understanding.


Ai Vin & Anne

Thank you for your informative opinions, which did nothing to respond to the key point of my message - thinking about wider issues of sustainability than climate change.

A lot of this debate has been highly negative, revolves around a propaganda battle between those manipulating evidence to try and prove climate change and those trying to prove the contrary. Its destructive, and lacks the wider thinking required to shift towards sustainability.

My view is that we should move towards sustainability and in innovative ways as opposed to the usual tax raising scam methods to raise money to service the national debt. This means support for inventive people who will develop the solutions that will enable us to purse a more sustainable lifestyle - a more positive way, not through negative policies.

Take car use - environmentalists have moved on from the old fashioned issues of smog etc and become obsessed with CO2, and the usual tiring soundbyte cliches - if I received £1 each time I heard them, I'd be very wealthy! Well someday, unless the UK Government hasn't made it illegal to drive by then (I doubt it because the UK Government profits more from oil consumption than the companies themselves - so have an incentive to keep fuel prices high enough to hurt but allow ua to drive), we will be able to fill up with fuel made from algae, or perhaps powered by electricity from a wind farm or fusion powered grid. If that gives us the sustainable mobility that we need, and reduce carbon emissions at the same time that will only be a good thing. The alternative to force us all onto public transport (which has a role, like walking and cycling has but will never replace all car journeys - the government knows that, hence how it gets away with said fuel taxes) is simply flogging a dead horse.


Mark BC

Global cooling has in fact been taking place for the last decade. Indeed the head of th UN IPCC has admitted this fact. See third link. Arctic Sea ice is actualy growing, although it always flucuates. (See last link) I have pictures of U.S. Submarines on the surface at an ice free North Pole in the late 1950's.,25197,23411799-7583,00.html



You've kidding, right? Your proof is a collection of personal views, online opinion pieces, third party reporting & commentary?


Hi Anne,

something I did not fully picture until recently - the Antarctic simply dwarfs the rest of the ice on Earth. You already know that fully 90 percent of the ice on Earth and 80 percent of the fresh water on Earth is captured in the Antarctic.

When you think all the glaciers, Greenland, lakes and rivers across the planet only comprise 10 percent of the fresh water on Earth - the rest in the Antarctic - it's impressive.

Please don't take my word for it. While NASA scientists endorse some kind of warming - they are baffled as to why the vast majority of the Antarctic has been GROWING about 1 percent per decade. They have formulated three theories - none of which has been proven:

It's really not a bad thing Anne. Just part of nature.


You can wait for the market to pursue what it wants and they will probably pursue profits. Good is suppose to come from that pursuit of profits, but rarely does, except by accident.

You provide incentives to encourage doing good things for society and disincentives to discourage doing bad things TO society. This usually works more effectively. If you use the revenue from the disincentives to provide the incentives, you might even achieve the goals sooner.

Henry Gibson

Stopping the increase of human animals is the way out of the CO2 issue. If climate change got rid of all human animals, it would be a service to the diversity of life on the earth. Humans have the technology to colonize the moon and mars, and all of them should do it soon so that the earth can go through hot and cold periods as it has frequently done. I have no doubt that a thermo nuclear devices could trigger a large volcano to cool off the earth promptly. This relates to the nuclear winter theory. Not one of you has mentioned the tried and true way of reducing CO2; lower speed limits. ..HG..



I understand you concede that your conclusion that 'CO2 doesn't cause sea level rise' was unfounded.

If my memory serves me well, the Antarctic ice sheet is gaining between 50 and 100 cubic km per year. Greenland is losing 200 cubic km per year. That is a net loss, even though Antarctica holds 10x as much ice as Greenland. It is the net figure that matters, not how much ice is locked up on which continent.

And the main problem with glaciers is not sea level rise. In many places around the world, glaciers provide the invaluable service of year-round fresh water. Literally billions of people depend on this. When those glaciers disappear, the rivers they feed will be dry in summer. Guess what happens then?


I should have checked my data too. I was sort of correct on the Greenland ice sheet mass loss figure, but the Antarctic ice sheet is too losing mass, not gaining it as I stated. See this article.

From the excerpt:
We use monthly measurements of time-variable gravity from the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite gravity mission to determine the ice mass-loss for the Greenland and Antarctic Ice Sheets during the period between April 2002 and February 2009. We find that during this time period the mass loss of the ice sheets is not a constant, but accelerating with time, i.e., that the GRACE observations are better represented by a quadratic trend than by a linear one, implying that the ice sheets contribution to sea level becomes larger with time. In Greenland, the mass loss increased from 137 Gt/yr in 2002–2003 to 286 Gt/yr in 2007–2009, i.e., an acceleration of −30 ± 11 Gt/yr² in 2002–2009. In Antarctica the mass loss increased from 104 Gt/yr in 2002–2006 to 246 Gt/yr in 2006–2009, i.e., an acceleration of −26 ± 14 Gt/yr² in 2002–2009.

So we can undeniable say: yes, CO2 causes sea level rise. All the big land based ice sheets are losing mass.

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