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Climate and Clean Air Coalition can cut warming by 0.5°C

By John Parnell

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) could reduce warming by 0.5°C by 2050, but its work must be done alongside deep cuts in CO2, according to its interim chief.

The coalition was founded a year ago this week by the USA, Canada, Sweden, Ghana, Mexico, Bangladesh and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) to target reductions in methane, black carbon (soot), and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), three potent greenhouse gases.

Many questioned whether the work of the CCAC would contribute to progress on climate change, or if it would be a facade for heavy emitters like the USA to avoid making wide-ranging commitments at the main UN climate talks.

But speaking to RTCC, Kaveh Zahedi, interim head of the CCAC secretariat stressed that the group’s work is not about ‘buying time’ for a global deal to reduce CO2 emissions, rather he says it is an effort to address the issue on all fronts.

“The Minister of Environment from Norway said his county is very concerned with climate change and they see the CCAC as a first aid kit,” he said.

“It doesn’t buy us any time, action has to be complementary to work to reduce CO2. But it could bring us relief in terms of the trajectory of climate change and it could reduce warming by 0.5°C by 2050. For vulnerable countries like the Maldives, that is everything.”

Replacing kerosene stoves with cleaner alternatives is one of the core activities of the CCAC. (Source:UN/Sophia Paris)

Methane, black carbon and HFCs are all short term climate forcers. They have a greater warming impact on the atmosphere than CO2, but stay there for shorter period of time.

The CCAC has focused on several projects during first year including diesel emissions, methane leakage in the oil and gas industry and solid waste disposal.

“The CCAC is very much about the near term. If we do that and that alone, we won’t impact on climate change in the long term,” he warned.

While progress to tackle a basket of six greenhouse gases through the UNFCCC has been painstaking, the CCAC has ballooned from six to 55 member governments in a year.

The list of participants is a curious mix of developed nations, progressive Latin American states and a smattering of African countries. Notable absentees include China, India, Russia and Brazil.

Kevin Hicks of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) says there are added incentives for governments to take part in the CCAC and fewer barriers than at the UNFCCC.

“The attractive thing is that the CCAC is a non-binding, voluntary organization, which is a very different form than the UNFCCC,” he said.

“Countries see that they can achieve multiple public health, food and energy security benefits, as well as near term climate benefits, with clear linkages to development agendas.

“Actions on short term climate pollutants can be cost effective and pay for themselves over time. The challenge now is to scale up that work and to make sure it is complementary to enhanced action on long-lived GHGs such as CO2.”

Local perks

Zahedi and Hicks both note the importance of the local benefits cited by governments looking to join the programme.

“Countries that are coming on board are doing so with an growing emphasis on their own local issues. But they are joining forces to tackle these problems as a collective,” said Zahedi.

“Today Kenya has expressed its interest in joining the CCAC. They talked a lot about the health benefits, cook stoves, agriculture, that’s the way they see this challenge. Other countries will have a different emphasis, perhaps the phase out of HFCs”

When it was originally launched NGOs gave the initiative a cautious welcome, while warning that developed world governments should not hide behind their work with CCAC when challenged on their record at the UNFCCC.

Hicks argues this accusation does not entirely stand up.

“[The CCAC] does not distract from the UNFCCC efforts as action on short term forcers is often linked to actions countries would be taking any way to improve air quality,” he said.

“They often tackle different parts of sectors to CO2 measures such as biomass fired cookstoves for domestic cooking and heating rather than the power stations targets by action through the UNFCCC.”

The BASIC group of major emerging economies, Brazil, South Africa, India and China recently identified black carbon as an area of interest. RTCC understands this has been met with suspicion from some in the European policy community.

A global CO2 emissions deal including all nations, not just the wealthiest that made commitments in the Kyoto Protocol, is scheduled to be agreed by 2015.

To have any credibility, it will require the BASIC countries to make legally binding, CO2 emission reductions.

That’s a much harder sell than voluntary targets, and even UNEP chief Achim Steiner, for whom the CCAC has been something of a personal triumph, acknowledges that ultimately the focus on short term pollutants it will not be enough.

“In respect to climate change, it might assist in keeping a global temperature below 2 degrees C but only for so long,” he said.

“Unless there is also decisive action on carbon dioxide, then reducing all sources of short lived climate forcers will not spare the world and its people from dangerous climate change over the 21st Century.”

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  • Green Cooling

    Happy 1st Anniversary to CCAC, the recognition that this important initiative is not about “buying time” but instead reflects the importance of using all levers at once to put the brakes on emissions growth is most welcome.

    That most NGOs have provided only a cautious welcome to CCAC reflects their necessary but insufficient focus on CO2. While there can be no argument CO2 is the main game, the near total lack of attention from ENGOs around the world (with a very few outstanding exceptions) on the non CO2 forcers is difficult to justify. This needs to change. If we are to have any hope of staying within the 2 degrees ‘guardrail’, the contribution of all greenhouses gases needs to be urgently addressed.

    HFCs (and HCFCs) are among the most rapidly rising ghg’s in atmospheric concentration. Recognition that the real world impacts of HFCs are around twice as great as officially stated (using 20 year Global Warming Potential rather than 100 year GWPs for gases with atmospheric lifetimes <20yrs), and that emissions may be under-reported by as much as 50% is long overdue. Benefits of reducing atmospheric concentrations of non CO2 forcers are fast acting, and could yet play an important role in avoiding climate tipping points.

    In 2013 it is time the synthetic greenhouse gases, particularly hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) received urgent attention.

    Growth of HFCs is continuing at an extremely fast and alarming rate, and yet are relatively easily replaced by the suite of available natural refrigerant solutions. If CCAC is to succeed it cannot leave the HFC and HCFC gases on the back burner. It is crucial that CCAC play a leading role in raising the level of ambition, overcoming industry and bureaucratic inertia, and challenging the dominant voice of vested fluorocarbon industry voices in the refrigerants debate.

    It is industry influence at the Montreal Protocol that is directly responsible for the HFC problem, and for retarding the acceptance of ammonia, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, air and water in the full range of applications to which they are suitable, and in which they can deliver safe and energy efficient performance.

    Substantially increased political will is required from all countries to break the deadlock at the Montreal Protocol to include HFCs, to recognise it's significant past and future contribution to climate protection, and to raise the level of ambition beyond timid "phase-down" proposals towards the bold "phase-out" goals that are required in response to the science, and which natural refrigerants are ready to deliver.

    CCAC has a huge opportunity to provide a forum for leadership on HFCs to emerge.