Asia Pacific Countries Chart Course to Put Brakes on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Boy Using Inefficient Cook Stove
Photo Credit: Arnico Panday

Bangkok, 4th February 2013 – Government representatives from 19 Asian countries begin meetings here today, hosted by senior environmental officials from Bangladesh and Japan, to look at ways to catalyse fast action to reduce the impacts of short-lived climate pollutants – so-called SLCPs – in the Asia Pacific region.

SLCPs, such as black carbon or soot, methane, tropospheric ozone and some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), are responsible for a substantial fraction of both the warming experienced to date and the current rate of global warming and can be dangerous air pollutants, with various detrimental impacts on human health, agriculture and ecosystems.

Governments and officials discussed existing measures that can be quickly taken up and integrated into strategies for economic development and environment protection. This is the first time that the SLCP challenge collectively has been discussed at an Asia wide meeting.

A UNEP study in 2011 found that aggressive action to reduce SLCPs by 2030 could avoid over 2 million premature deaths and annual crop losses of over 30 million tonnes each year, as well as to halve the pace of global warming by 2050 and deliver significant regional climate benefits. Cost-effective technologies to deliver the necessary emission reductions are already available internationally. 

The study shows that Asia is one of the regions that could most benefit from SLCP mitigation. About 1.9 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could be prevented each year by 2030 by implementing black carbon measures addressing the transport and residential sector and open agricultural biomass burning. Reducing methane emissions from coalmines could bring significant crop benefits. In addition, reducing levels of black carbon and other particles in the atmosphere could slow the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas and reduce disruption of the South Asian monsoon.

The SLCP meeting was hosted by Bangladesh, Japan and UNEP under the auspices of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), a voluntary global effort bringing together 28 partner countries and many intergovernmental organizations, representatives of the civil society and the private sector that is spearheading global efforts on SLCPs.

Bangladesh Minister of Environment and Forests, Hon. Dr Hasan Mahmud and the Japanese Vice-Minister for Global Environmental Affairs, Hon. Dr Ryutaro Yatsu convened the meeting and were joined by Dr. Keshab Man Shakya, Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Nepal and Dr. Mohamed Ahmed Mustafa, Deputy Minister of Environment and Energy, Republic of Maldives.

During the meeting Bangladesh's Minister for the Environment and Forests, Hon. Dr Hasan Mahmud said: “Bangladesh has been working for the last few years towards modernisation of brick kilns, improvement of millions of cook-stoves, improvement of rice parboiling systems, setting up of air quality monitoring mechanisms and adoption of relevant enabling environmental documents. Bangladesh, as a Founding Member of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), has taken the initiatives of the CCAC seriously and wants to work with partners in the reduction of SLCPs to complement action on global warming.” 

The Japanese Vice-Minister for Global Environmental Affairs, Hon. Dr Ryutaro Yatsu added that: “Japan is engaged to support CCAC and will contribute to the actions focused on SLCPs, cooperating closely with partner countries and organizations, with our knowledge and experiences both in policy making and research. We are pleased to support the expansion of the Coalition to Asia and the Pacific because it is really meaningful in light of the promotion of sustainable development in the region.”

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Program declared: “We look forward to welcoming all countries in Asia and the Pacific into the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to scale up the work and join forces with the other Partners in this effort to address the challenge of short-lived climate pollutants and deliver rapid and multiple public health, food and energy security, as well as near term climate benefits.”

The meeting was held back to back with the Fourth Governmental Meeting on Urban Air Quality in Asia. Urban Air Quality in Asia meetings are held every two years and organized by Clean Air Asia and UNEP to update governments on developments of urban air quality management internationally and in the region and to harmonize approaches between Asian countries in tackling urban air pollution, including that caused by some SLCPs, and related areas such as climate change.

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NOTES FOR EDITORS

Countries Attending

Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Republic of Maldives, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan.

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition

The Climate and Clean Air Coalition (www.unep.org/CCAC) is a voluntary, collaborative global partnership uniting governments, intergovernmental organizations, the private sector, and civil society to quickly reduce short-lived climate pollutants such as methane, black carbon, and many hydroflourocarbons (HFCs).  The Coalition is focusing high-level attention to catalyze major reductions that can be undertaken now using existing technologies. 

Aggressive action on these pollutants could head off 0.5 degrees Celsius of warming by 2050, prevent over two million premature deaths each year, and avoid over 30 million tons of annual crop losses by 2030.  The Coalition seeks to build upon and scale-up existing efforts focused on short-lived climate pollutants. All Partners of the CCAC recognize that the Coalition’s work is entirely complementary to efforts to reduce CO2, in particular efforts under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Since its launch in February 2012, the Coalition has grown from 7 partners to more than 51, currently consisting of Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Republic of Korea, Republic of Maldives, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and United States, as well as other key parties like the European Commission, the UN Environmental Programme, the World Bank, and the UN Development Programme.  The Coalition has established a Science Advisory Panel composed of world-renowned scientists, including Nobel Laureate Mario Molina and IPCC co-chair Youba Sokona to ensure the Coalition’s work is guided by the best and latest science.

The Coalition is currently implementing seven international initiatives:

  • Reducing methane from the municipal solid waste sector, including landfills;
  • Reducing black carbon from diesel vehicles and engines;
  • Reducing SLCPs and other greenhouse gases from brick production;
  • HFC alternative technology and standards promotion;
  • Financing promotion;
  • National action plans; and
  • Accelerating cost-effective reductions of short-lived climate pollutants from global oil and natural gas operations.

Full details on the CCAC can be found at http://www.unep.org/ccac/; email: ccac_secretariat@unep.org; Tel: +33 1 44 37 42 93

Governmental Meetings on Urban Air Pollution

Governmental Meetings on Urban Air Quality in Asia are held every two years to harmonize approaches between Asian countries in tackling urban air pollution and related areas. UNEP and the Clean Air Asia Center co-organize these meetings, which are an integral part of the Better Air Quality (BAQ) conferences, and have been supported by Sida through Global Atmospheric Pollution Forum (GAP Forum).

  • First Governmental Meeting on Urban Air Quality in Asia
    The First Governmental Meeting was held in parallel with BAQ 2006 on 13-14 December 2006 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The meeting was co-organized by Clean Air Asia, UNEP, the State Ministry of Environment of the Republic of Indonesia, and the United Nations Centre for Regional Development (UNCRD). The meeting resulted in the Yogyakarta Summary.
  • Second Governmental Meeting on Urban Air Quality in Asia
    As a follow up, UNEP and the Clean Air Asia Center drafted the Long Term Vision on Urban Air Quality in Asia (LTV) that describes the desired state of urban air quality in Asian cities in 2030 1
    • Vision: “Healthy people in healthy cities, which put emphasis on prevention of air pollution, and which implement effective strategies for the abatement of air pollution.”
    • Indicator: "Asian cities have made significant progress towards achieving World Health Organization (WHO) air quality guideline values through the implementation of comprehensive air quality management strategies.”
      At the Second Governmental Meeting, organized in parallel with BAQ 2008 in Bangkok, representatives from 15 environmental ministries agreed that this LTV can inspire Asian cities to develop and implement their own vision.
  • Third Governmental Meeting on Urban Air Quality in Asia
    Organized by Clean Air Asia and UNEP with support from Sida and UNEP PCFV was held on 8 November 2010 in Singapore. Seventeen senior officials from national environment ministries deliberated on the way forward in achieving Asia’s LTV and what the priority areas should be, which were identified as:
    • Conduct more health impact studies as a basis for policy development
    • Develop a road map for improving ambient air quality and emission standards in Asia
    • Optimize resources by sharing and aligning databases on air quality
    • Develop a mechanism for regional air quality management (air basins)
    • Promote the co-benefits approach for policies and programs
    • Prepare an overview of regional forums, networks and organizations at the national levels to facilitate cooperation on the regional level

About Short-lived Climate Pollutants

Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are agents that have relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere - a few days to fifteen years, as compared to CO2 which once emitted can stay in the atmosphere for a century to some millennia - and have a warming influence on climate. The main short-lived climate pollutants are black carbon, methane and tropospheric ozone, which are the most important contributors to the human enhancement of the global greenhouse effect after CO2. These short-lived climate pollutants are also dangerous air pollutants, with various detrimental impacts on human health, agriculture and ecosystems.

Black carbon is a major component of soot and is formed from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood and biomass. Key sources include emissions from cars and trucks; cookstoves; forest fires, open burning of waste and agricultural residues and some industrial facilities. It affects the climate by intercepting and absorbing sunlight and darkens snow and ice when deposited, while also influencing cloud formation. It is also a primary component of particulate matter in air pollution that is the major environmental cause of premature death globally. Big cuts in emissions of black carbon will improve respiratory health; reduce hospital admissions and days lost at school and work due to sickness.

Methane (CH4) is a greenhouse gas that is over 20 times more potent than CO2 over a 20 year period, and has an atmospheric lifetime of about 12 years. It is produced through natural processes (i.e. the decomposition of plant and animal waste), but is also emitted from many man-made sources, including coal mines, natural gas and oil systems, landfills and rice paddies. Methane directly influences the climate system and also has indirect impacts on human health and ecosystems, in particular through its role as a precursor of tropospheric ozone. Big cuts in methane and ground level ozone could contribute to reduced crop damage equal to between one to four per cent of the annual global maize, rice, soybean and wheat production.

Other short-lived climate pollutants include some hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). While HFCs are currently present in small quantity in the atmosphere their contribution to climate forcing is projected to climb to as much as 19% of global CO2 emissions by 2050 if left unchecked.

According to the 2011 UNEP Near-term Climate Protection and Clean Air Benefits report, fast and sustainable action on SLCPs, in particular black carbon, ground level ozone and methane has the potential to deliver near-term and multiple benefits for human well-being at the local, regional and global levels.  The study shows that such action could prevent over two million premature deaths annually, avoid annual crop losses of over 30 million tons, as well as to halve the pace of global warming by 2050 and deliver significant regional climate benefits. However, long-term climate protection will only be possible if deep and persistent cuts in CO2 emissions are realized in the short term.

The focus on reducing SLCP complements but in no way replaces the need to urgently reduce CO2 emissions. SLCPs cannot contribute much to reducing warming beyond the near-term, i.e. the next several decades.

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