Nav: Home

Policies to curb short-lived climate pollutants could yield major health benefits

May 04, 2017

DURHAM, N.C. -- A commitment to reducing global emissions of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) such as methane and black carbon could slow global warming while boosting public health and agricultural yields, aligning the Paris Climate Agreement with global sustainable development goals, a new analysis by an international research panel shows.

Methane and black carbon - or soot - are the second and third most powerful climate-warming agents after carbon dioxide. They also contribute to air pollution that harms the health of billions of people worldwide and reduces agricultural yields.

"Unlike long-lived greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, SLCPs respond very quickly to mitigation. It's highly likely that we could cut methane emissions by 25 percent and black carbon by 75 percent and eliminate high-warming hydrofluorocarbons altogether in the next 25 years using existing technologies, if we made a real commitment to doing this," said Drew T. Shindell, professor of climate science at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment.

Acting now to reduce these emissions would contribute to long-term goals set under the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement while concurrently offering governments substantial benefits in the short term for investing in sustainable development - a set of goals through 2030 that countries also agreed to in 2015.

"The urgency in dealing with SLCPs now rather than later is that if we wait to address them, we continue to incur all these damages - increased public health burdens and reduced agricultural yields - along the way," Shindell said. "If we want to avoid those costs, and keep millions of people from dying, we need to do this now.

"Adding a pathway goal would help reduce the risks faced by the current generation and our children, complementing the Paris Agreement's long-term target that reduces risks for future generations," he said.

Shindell and colleagues from 10 other international research institutions published their peer-reviewed policy forum article May 5 in Science.

The article builds upon previous work by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), an international consortium of more than 100 countries and non-state partners working to reduce SLCPs. Shindell chairs the CCAC's Science Advisory Panel; his co-authors of the new policy forum are all members or affiliates of that panel.

In the new article, they point out that in addition to saving human lives and boosting global food security, curbing SLCPs will significantly slow the pace of climate change over the next 25 years. This could help reduce biodiversity losses and slow amplifying climate feedbacks such as snow-and-ice albedo that are highly sensitive to black carbon.

Under the Paris Agreement, many countries have already committed to reducing SLCPs, Shindell noted, yet they are combining those pledges into a single, so-called "CO2-equivalent" reporting method that lumps SLCPs into the same basket as carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases. Maintaining separate reporting methods for each pollutant would provide a clearer understanding of the benefits associated with SLCPs' reduction.

"Targeting immediate reductions in SLCP emissions is the most beneficial path we can take toward achieving the Paris Climate Agreement's goal of reducing warming by 2oC," Shindell said. "You could, conceivably, delay reducing these pollutants for decades and still achieve that goal. But why would you want to if there are all these advantages to be gained by following this path, instead?"
-end-
Researchers at the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development in Washington, D.C.; the University of British Colombia; the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine; the University of York; the United Nations Environment Programme; Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Colorado State University; the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria; and TERI University in India co-authored the new article with Shindell.

CITATION:"A Climate Policy Pathway for Near- and Long-Term Benefits," D. Shindell, N. Borgford-Parnell, M. Brauer, A. Haines, J.C.I. Kuylenstierna, S.A. Leonard, V. Ramanathan, A. Ravishankara, M. Amann and L. Srivastava. Science, May 5, 2017: DOI: 10.1126/science.aak9521

Duke University

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Anthropomorphic
Do animals grieve? Do they have language or consciousness? For a long time, scientists resisted the urge to look for human qualities in animals. This hour, TED speakers explore how that is changing. Guests include biological anthropologist Barbara King, dolphin researcher Denise Herzing, primatologist Frans de Waal, and ecologist Carl Safina.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#SB2 2019 Science Birthday Minisode: Mary Golda Ross
Our second annual Science Birthday is here, and this year we celebrate the wonderful Mary Golda Ross, born 9 August 1908. She died in 2008 at age 99, but left a lasting mark on the science of rocketry and space exploration as an early woman in engineering, and one of the first Native Americans in engineering. Join Rachelle and Bethany for this very special birthday minisode celebrating Mary and her achievements. Thanks to our Patreons who make this show possible! Read more about Mary G. Ross: Interview with Mary Ross on Lash Publications International, by Laurel Sheppard Meet Mary Golda...