3 min readCost-Effective Actions Could Slow Near-Term Climate Change, Reduce Air Pollution Deaths and Boost Food Security

UNEP's report outlines 16 measures, including the the capture of methane from landfill sites.

London, UK and Nairobi, Kenya – A package of 16 measures compiled by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) suggests that, if fully implemented across the globe, it may potentially 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 this report, produced by 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:

  • Upgrading wastewater treatment works will help cut emissions of methane, while improving sanitation and water quality.
  • 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.

UNEP affirmed that 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.

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