During the last four years, Congressional action on climate change has been minimal, at best. After the Senate thwarted the cornerstone of the climate change plan, a cap-and-trade bill, a horde of climate-deniers won seats in the 2010 Congressional elections. The government continues to subsidize fossil fuels for an amount larger than the GDP of one-fifth of the world’s countries.
Despite the disappointments of the last term, there are congressional members still willing to fight climate change. One of these members, Rep. Scott Peters (CA-52) is continuing this battle by introducing the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction (SUPER) Act of 2013.
The SUPER Act reinvigorates the conversation about climate change by addressing “short-lived climate pollutants,” a potent group of gases referred to as SLCPs or “super pollutants.” While carbon dioxide (CO2) is the best-known greenhouse gas, it is certainly not the only one. On the contrary, nearly half of global warming is caused by super pollutants such as methane, tropospheric ozone, hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon.
Super pollutants are far more potent than CO2, with between 25 and 4000 times more global warming potential over a 100-year period. Furthermore, these pollutants remain in the atmosphere for no more than 15 years. Some gases such as black carbon and tropospheric ozone last less than two weeks. CO2 has a much longer atmospheric lifetime. Quick action to reduce super pollutant emissions can have major short-term benefits, slowing down warming by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius by 2050.
The SUPER Act would take immediate action by streamlining the enforcement of existing federal policies for reducing super pollutants and supporting similar policies, such as California’s extremely successful diesel truck regulations and recent attack on hydrofluorocarbons, at the state and local level.
While the scientific imperative to reduce super pollutant emissions is clear, the optimal policy for doing so is not. That’s why the SUPER Act would also create a task force to drive the policy discussion behind the SUPER Act. The task force, composed of representatives from academia, involved industries and all levels of government, would review existing policies and report a list of best practices for mitigating super pollutant emissions. Such a discussion will be crucial to informing future actions towards developing super pollutant legislation.
Why the SUPER Act is important
The United States has already displayed substantial leadership in the global campaign against super pollutants. The United States co-sponsored an amendment to the Montreal Protocol that would phase out HFCs annually since 2009 with Canada and Mexico. In 2012, the United States founded the Clean Air and Climate Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), an organization that fosters international cooperation on reducing super pollutant emissions and now has grown from an original six to than 30 state partners.
Unfortunately, these examples have not yet been enough to mobilize a true global movement to combat super pollutants. The Montreal Protocol amendment continues to be strongly opposed by developing countries such as India, China and Brazil. The fledgling CCAC is also far from a global movement, with limited membership and minimal support from the developing world.
The SUPER Act will help the United States strengthen its international efforts to mitigate super pollutants right here at home.
The stakes in the fight against climate change are high, and the United States must take immediate action. Aligning our domestic policies with our international aspirations is a crucial first step, and we should start down this path by addressing short-lived climate pollution through legislation like the SUPER Act.