by Jeffrey Cavanagh
During this weekend’s G-8 summit hosted by President Obama at Camp David, leaders from the Group of Eight nations endorsed a new plan to combat “short-lived climate polluters,” with a focus on methane, black carbon, and hydroflurocarbons (HFCs).
According to the Camp David Declaration — the official communiqué endorsed by all G-8 leaders at the end of the summit — short-lived pollutants significantly contribute to global warming, and limiting their release will help prevent a substantial number of premature deaths around the world:
Recognizing the impact of short-lived climate pollutants on near-term climate change, agricultural productivity, and human health, we support, as a means of promoting increased ambition and complementary to other CO2 and GHG emission reduction efforts, comprehensive actions to reduce these pollutants, which, according to UNEP and others, account for over thirty percent of near-term global warming as well as 2 million premature deaths a year.
The Group of Eight nations will now join the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants, a partnership originally launched by the United States, with Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden, in February of this year. Additional G-8 members to the Coalition will include France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Japan, and Russia.
Unlike carbon dioxide, which can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years, climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon, and HFCs are generally much shorter lived; however they are much more effective at raising global temperatures.
Methane, a shorter-living gas, is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, and has contributed to roughly 50 percent of tropospheric ozone helping warm the planet. HFCs, a common refrigerant, are thousands of times more potent. Black carbon — or soot — lands on ice caps and glaciers, increasing melting and preventing the reflection of sunlight. Reducing these short-lived pollutants will help countries meet near-term international climate change goals.
The G-8 operates with an “imperative” to promote economic growth and create jobs, and the group’s willingness to address climate change and short-lived pollutants rightly suggests that fighting climate change by curbing greenhouse gasses can also facilitate economic growth.
According to a White House fact sheet released during the summit, fostering sustainable economic development is “essential” for addressing both the challenges of climate change as well as international economic insecurity:
The development of and universal access to environmentally safe, sustainable, secure, and affordable sources of energy is essential to global economic growth and to their overall efforts to address climate change.
G-8 leaders also agreed to support initiatives of the Clean Energy Ministerial (CEM), a collaborative effort of 23 countries that brings together the world’s major carbon emitters in a smaller forum than the UNFCCC. G-8 countries agreed to build on current initiatives in the CEM, which already cover 90 percent of clean energy investment and 80 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, including the Super-efficient Equipment and Appliances Deployment (SEAD) initiative and working through the CEM to share best practices for efficient energy management in industry and government. Additional G-8 support for the CEM’s 21st Century Power Partnership will enhance high-volume renewable energy and smart-grid technology development, as part of the 20-country International Smart Grid Action Network.
The G-8’s decision to reduce short-lived pollutants represents another, effective approach in combination with broader efforts to address carbon dioxide. Reducing these pollutants will save lives and help curb near-term global warming. That’s a win-win for everyone.
Jeffrey Cavanagh is an intern with the international climate team at the Center for American Progress.