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Low-lying and other vulnerable countries calling for fast action on non-CO2 global warming pollutants

Led by the tiny Pacific island of the Federated States of Micronesia, a growing group of low-lying islands and other vulnerable countries are calling for fast action on the approximately 50% of global warming that is caused by pollutants other than carbon dioxide (CO2). Among the non-CO2 pollutants are hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), methane, tropospheric ozone, and black carbon soot.

The next round of UN climate negotiations begins in Cancun today.

The scientific case for such a strategy was laid out in an Op Ed in The New York Times by Professor Veerabhadran Ramanathan, from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleague, Professor David Victor.

Ramanathan and Victor highlight the importance of aggressively reducing CO2 emissions, but note that the road ahead will be long, difficult, and expensive, and that “in the meantime, a fast-action plan is needed.”

The authors go on to say that reducing the non-CO2 pollutants can delay additional climate warming by several decades. Technology is already available to reduce these climate-forcing agents, and doing so would produce strong collateral benefits.

For example, reducing emissions from open cooking and diesel vehicles could save many of the 1.9 million lives lost each year due to black carbon soot. Reducing tropospheric ozone can improve public health as well as agricultural productivity. Methane is another potent climate warmer that needs to be targeted; capturing emissions from sources such as landfills and coal mines would benefit the climate system and the gas could then be used as a source of energy.

Micronesia submitted a proposal last year to address these very climate warmers—black carbon, methane, and tropospheric ozone—under the UN climate treaty. Micronesia re-submitted their “Programme of Work on Opportunities for Near-Term Climate Mitigation” this year and it will be considered by Parties at the Cancun meetings over the next two weeks.

This is a critical opportunity that all of the Parties in Cancun need to be aware of now. CO2 is the main game, but it’s pretty clear that progress on CO2 is not going to be quick or easy, and we still need to do something fast on climate to buy time—this is what reducing non-CO2 emissions can do for the world.

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

In addition to the Micronesia’s proposal on near-term mitigation, there is another opportunity for climate progress in Cancun: phasing down HFCs under the Montreal Protocol ozone treaty, IGSD notes. This has been a parallel effort of Micronesia’s for the last few years under the ozone regime, where HFCs are the current substitute for substances that deplete the ozone layer. The US, Canada, and Mexico provided their support for this strategy through a separate, but similar North American proposal. At the treaty's meeting earlier this month in Bangkok, 91 countries signed onto a declaration supporting the use of low-global warming potential substitutes instead of HFCs which can have hundreds to thousands the warming potential of CO2


The Parties included Micronesia and other small island nations, the Philippines, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Congo, Nigeria, the 27 countries of the EU, as well as Japan, the US, Canada, and Mexico.


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