LONDON/NAROBI: A package of 16 measures could, if fully implemented across the globe, save close to 2.5 million lives a year; avoid crop losses amounting to 32 million tonnes annually and deliver near-term climate protection of about half a degree C by 2040.
The report estimates that implementing these measures would help keep a global temperature rise below the 2 degrees C target, at least until mid-century.
The measures, outlined in a new report compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with an international team of experts, target short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs)—black carbon which is a major component of soot, methane and tropospheric ozone.
The report emphasizes that fast action on short-lived climate forcers will not be able to keep global temperature rise to under 2 degrees C by the end of the century, unless governments decisively act on the principle greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).
The report, funded by the Government of Sweden, estimates that around half of the black carbon and methane emission reductions can be achieved through measures that result in cost savings over the lifetime of the investment.
This is because some of the measures—such as recovering rather than emitting natural gas during oil production—allow the methane to be harvested as a clean source of fuel.
Cutting black carbon emissions by, for example, replacing inefficient cookstoves and traditional brick kilns with more efficient ones, also cuts fuel costs for households and kiln operators.
The report points to other economic, social and environmental benefits that are not included in the overall cost-estimates of this assessment. These include:
1. Upgrading wastewater treatment works will help cut emissions of methane, while improving sanitation and water quality.
2. Recovery of coal mine methane – carried out for occupational safety reasons as well as for the economic value of methane as a clean-burning energy source will have significant climate and health benefits.
The report has been requested by developed and developing countries and builds on some ten years of scientific research, first, through the UNEP Atmospheric Brown Cloud project, and more recently via assessments by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
In June this year, UNEP and the WMO released their Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone report, underlining the likely health, agricultural and climate benefits of fast action on these pollutants.
The June report also spotlighted the link between methane emissions and the formation of tropospheric ozone, concluding that methane is contributing by around 50 per cent to increases in background ozone concentrations world-wide.
This, in part, explains why the concentrations of tropospheric ozone in the northern hemisphere have tripled over the past 100 years.
Indeed, tropospheric ozone has become the third most important contributor to man-made climate change, after carbon dioxide and methane itself.
Tropospheric ozone also reduces crop yields and damages human health, when inhaled.
Black carbon, together with other components of particulate matter – emitted as a result of inefficient burning from a wide range of sources, including cook stoves and diesel engines – is a major cause of premature deaths, resulting from outdoor and indoor pollution.
It is also likely to heat up the atmosphere and, when deposited onto ice caps and glaciers, can accelerate melting because less sunlight is reflected back into space.
Fast action on short-lived climate forcers could significantly cut the rate of warming in the Arctic and reduce projected warming in 2040 by 0.7 degrees C, with important implications for the lives and livelihoods of Arctic peoples, biodiversity and global sea-level rise.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The scientific case for fast action on these so-called ‘Short-Lived Climate Forcers’ has been steadily built over more than a decade—the question governments have been asking over recent months is what are the options and priorities for action and the likely costs and benefits in order to advance a response to rapidly manage these substances.”
“This report provides that analysis and offers pathways and policies that may allow nations, acting nationally, regionally and globally, to achieve some remarkable gains in terms of a transition to a low emission, resource efficient Green Economy over the near term.”
“For some countries the most important benefits result from cost-effective improvements in air pollution and reduced illness and loss of life—black carbon, for example, could be controlled under national and regional air quality agreements. Other countries are also recognizing the food security benefits in terms of reduced crop damage in a world of seven billion people,” said Mr. Steiner.
“For others, it may be the regional and global climate benefits that are uppermost in their minds—whatever the motivation, this report presents the costs and the benefits that can play their part towards a sustainable 21st century as governments head towards Rio+20 in June, next year,” he added.
Key Options for Fast Action to Implement Measure to Reduce SLCFs
Fast action on short lived climate forcers will be required to deliver climate change, health and agricultural benefits over the near term.
The report groups actions into four categories based on relative costs, while also looking at regional benefits and regional sources of the different pollutants.
The 16 measure identified in the report are organized into four categories, based on their relative cost. All have been tried and tested to varying levels in a variety of countries. For example, most European countries have already banned the burning of agricultural wastes, which can be expanded to other regions.
More efficient cookstoves are already being introduced in many parts of the world, including West Africa, China and India.
Emissions standards, such as the Euro 6/VI, are being introduced for vehicles in Europe and other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) as well as in some non-OECD countries.
In total, nine priority measures are identified for reducing black carbon emissions, with substantial benefits to health and the environment
A switch from traditional biomass cookstoves to more efficient fan-assisted ones, or stoves fueled by Liquefied Petroleum Gas or biogas, offers the biggest reduction potential in Africa, Asia Pacific and, to some extent, in Latin America and the Caribbean.
1. Action on cookstoves is also pinpointed as a low cost or cost-saving measure, which would represent close to 25 per cent of the total climate benefit, achievable through the full implementation of all 16 measures on short-lived climate forcers.
2. A switch to more efficient cookstoves would save householders and communities the time and money, usually spent over the collection and purchase of firewood and other sources of fuel.
3. The cost of replacing traditional cookstoves with more environmentally-friendly ones may seem low by international standards. However, from the perspective of local users in developing countries, this cost may represent a financial burden. The report looks at ways to overcome such barriers and to link the implementation of such measures to national development plans.
Replacing conventional residential wood burning stoves in North America and Europe with pellet stoves and boilers would also offer important black carbon cuts—estimated at close to 2 per cent of the overall climate benefits.
Replacing traditional brick kilns with more efficient ones could trigger cost savings equal to around $7 a tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
4. Vertical-shaft brick kilns use about half the energy and, hence half the fuel costs, per brick made compared to the traditional kilns.
Methane Cuts to Reduce Tropospheric Ozone
In respect to methane, seven measures are identified.
The biggest cuts would come from reducing emissions from coal mines and processes related to the production and transport of oil and gas, as well from as the capture of methane from landfill sites.
Globally, nearly 50 per cent of the methane reduction potential can be achieved through measures that will give rise to cost savings over the lifetime of the investment. Cost estimates were calculated according to two different perspectives:
1. A social planning perspective, where investment in black carbon and methane capture measures constitutes a long-term benefit for society and where cost savings are discounted over the lifetime of the investment.
2. A private business perspective, which expects a more rapid return on investment and where the implementation of black carbon and methane reduction measures may prove challenging, without adequate access to financing.
In North America, Europe and elsewhere separation and treatment of the biodegradable portion of municipal waste has important benefits—globally, this amounts to close to 10 per cent of the climate benefits linked with fast action.
Further benefits can arise in parts of Asia from exposing continuously flooded rice paddies intermittently to the air under improved management systems, as is now practiced in parts of China—globally, the climate benefits as a proportion of action on short-lived climate forcers is just over three per cent.
The report outlines national actions that can assist in fast-tracking efforts to reduce short-lived climate forcers, ranging from tax incentives, regulation, public education and subsidizes or loans on, for example, improved cookstoves.
Regional actions can include controlling pollutants, such as black carbon, under regional air quality agreements. For example, the UN Economic Commission for Europe’s Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution and its Gothenburg Protocol are currently being reviewed for the possible inclusion of black carbon, as a component of particulate matter.
Globally, there are opportunities for complementary actions that support international treaties, such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, in respect to methane and tropospheric ozone.
Convening international organizations around common near-term climate protection objectives could be a powerful way of integrating existing initiatives, reducing duplication and inefficient use of resources, while leading to more effective SLCFs mitigation in different sectors, worldwide.