Tuesday, September 08, 2009

UN Enviro Chief Calls For Action On "Non-CO2" Pollutants

Sep 4: Addressing the High-Level policy forum at the World Climate Conference-3 (WCC-3) [See WIMS 9/4/09], Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), pointed out that the time has come for further urgent scientific assessments to determine the precise contribution, impacts and the options for action on "non-CO2" pollutants. He indicated that faster action on climate change may be possible if nations combine substantial cuts of carbon dioxide emissions alongside accelerated moves across a suite of other greenhouse gases and pollutants.

According to a lengthy release from the UNEP, scientists estimate that nearly 50 per cent of the emissions causing global warming in the 21st century are from non-CO2 pollutants ranging from black carbon and low-level ozone to methane and nitrogen compounds. Steiner indicated that these "climate forcers" will add to the warming caused by carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels that have been building up since the Industrial Revolution unless their emissions are also addressed. Many of these non-CO2 gases and pollutants need to be addressed in their own right because of growing concern over their impact on human health, agriculture and ecosystems such as forests.

Steiner said, "There remains some scientific uncertainty about some of these pollutants' precise contribution to global warming. But a growing body of science points to a potentially significant role. The international community's over-arching concern must be to seal a convincing deal at the UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in less than 100 days time -- one that puts the world on track towards swift and significant cuts in carbon dioxide while also providing the funding to assist vulnerable countries and communities to adapt. It is clear that the world must deploy all available means to combat climate change. At this critical juncture, every transformative measure and every substance contributing to climate change should not be overlooked."

Drew Shindell, a leading climatologist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, and a lecturer in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University New York, said, "By including black carbon and tropospheric ozone precursors in climate mitigation strategies, alongside the longer-lived greenhouse gases, development strategies that are both more effective and less costly can be developed. The UN Environment Program should be congratulated for raising these issues and calling for action. The science supporting the strong role of these pollutants in climate change and in damage to human and ecosystem health is becoming increasingly strong."

Experts say that in addition their climate contribution, there are compelling and abundant economic and environmental reasons why some of the non-CO2 pollutants need to be addressed under treaties such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol, the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, and regional health agreements, national air quality strategies and voluntary initiatives.

Black carbon is basically the smoke that comes out of diesel vehicles and biomass burning. It is a pollutant often linked to inefficient burning, its sources ranging from biomass burning (including wood and dung in cooking) to diesel engines and coal-fired power stations. Unlike CO2, which can remain in the atmosphere for centuries to millennia, black carbon has a life of few weeks or less. Black carbon, however, is a key component of air pollution and causes the atmosphere to absorb heat.

Access a release from UNEP with links to extensive additional information (
click here). Access the WCC-3 website for complete details of the conference (click here).