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Researchers say policies to curb short-lived climate pollutants could yield major health benefits; methane and black carbon

A commitment to reducing global emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as methane and black carbon could slow global warming while boosting public health and agricultural yields, aligning the Paris Climate Agreement with global sustainable development goals, according to new analysis by an international research panel published in the journal Science.

Methane and black carbon (soot) are the second- and third-most powerful climate-warming agents after carbon dioxide. They also contribute to air pollution that harms the health of billions of people worldwide and reduces agricultural yields.

Lead author Drew T. Shindell, professor of climate science at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, co-authored the paper with colleagues from the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C.; the University of British Colombia; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; the University of York; the United Nations Environment Program; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Colorado State University; the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria; and TERI University in India.

Acting now to reduce these emissions would contribute to long-term goals set under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement while concurrently offering governments substantial benefits in the short term for investing in sustainable development—a set of goals through 2030 that countries also agreed to in 2015.

The paper builds upon previous work by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), an international consortium of more than 100 countries and non-state partners working to reduce SLCPs. Shindell chairs the CCAC’s Science Advisory Panel; his co-authors of the new policy forum are all members or affiliates of that panel.

In the new article, they point out that in addition to saving human lives and boosting global food security, curbing SLCPs will significantly slow the pace of climate change over the next 25 years. This could help reduce biodiversity losses and slow amplifying climate feedbacks such as snow-and-ice albedo that are highly sensitive to black carbon.

Under the Paris Agreement, many countries have already committed to reducing SLCPs, Shindell noted, yet they are combining those pledges into a single, so-called “CO2-equivalent” reporting method that lumps SLCPs into the same basket as carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases. Maintaining separate reporting methods for each pollutant would provide a clearer understanding of the benefits associated with SLCPs’ reduction.


  • D. Shindell, N. Borgford-Parnell, M. Brauer, A. Haines, J.C.I. Kuylenstierna, S.A. Leonard, V. Ramanathan, A. Ravishankara, M. Amann and L. Srivastava (2017) “A Climate Policy Pathway for Near- and Long-Term Benefits,” Science doi: 10.1126/science.aak9521


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