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Cut global warming in half and save our planet

The best and quickest way to slow the global temperature rise over the next 20 years and meet the target set at Paris is to reduce emissions of four short-lived climate pollutants (SLCP, also called “super greenhouse pollutants”) that warm way above their weight, but rapidly disappear from the atmosphere if we stop emitting them. The four super-pollutants are:

  • Methane, which traps 86 times as much heat in the first 20 years after emission as the same weight of CO2, but decomposes into other substances within those 20 years.
  • Black carbon, which remains in the air for only a few weeks, but still causes thousands of times more global warming in the 20 years after emission as the same weight of CO2
  • Ground-level ozone, which causes almost as much warming as methane, and forms in the air from nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, methane, and other volatile organic compounds
  • Hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants, which are now being phased out.

Simple, low-cost action could slash SLCP emissions and substantially reduce the rate of warming in the critical period from now to 2050, and at the same time prevent several hundred thousand premature deaths from the air pollution that accompanies methane and black carbon emissions.

Rapidly increasing temperatures threaten to devastate our coral reefs. The Arctic and Antarctic are warming twice the global average rate. Open water absorbs the sun’s radiation; whereas ice reflects it back into space. Methane is released when permafrost and undersea ice melt, and this adds to future warming.

Three experts warn Unless we rapidly slow down these self-amplifying feedback mechanisms (by reducing super-pollutant emissions), we could lose the first major battle of climate change and face worse problems in the future.” – Mario Molina (Nobel prizewinner), V. Ramanathan (renowned climate scientist) and Durwood Zaelke (President, Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development).

New Englanders can help achieve this by:

  • switching from wood and gas heating to an efficient, affordable reverse cycle air conditioner (also called a heat pump)
  • opposing activities such as ‘fracking’ and unnecessary burning of vegetation, including agricultural or forestry waste that produces methane and black carbon
  • lobbying governments for better monitoring of methane emissions from mines and pipelines, for programs to help developing countries replace cooking fires with clean stoves, and an effective overall strategy to avoid SLCP emissions (good examples are California’s SLCP strategy and SF Bay’s Spare the Air Cool the Climate)
  • not letting refrigerants escape
  • composting food waste & supporting Armidale’s ‘City to Soil’ program
  • letting other people know the critical importance of tackling super-pollutants emissions if we want to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees
  • keeping an eye on local research to reduce methane emissions and improve feed efficiency of cattle and sheep

Many New England residents have reduced CO2 emissions by lowering use of gas and non-renewable electricity, e.g. by installing efficient appliances, insulation and rooftop solar and also not leaving appliances on ‘standby’. Some have reduced CO2 emissions from transport.

However, methane, black carbon and ground level ozone cause almost as much warming as CO2 There’s no hope of achieving the target set at Paris by just reducing CO2 emissions. But we can achieve the target by slashing super pollutant emissions, which will drastically reduce the rate of warming over the next 20 years, reduce the stress on our Barrier Reef and buy us time to replace fossil fuel power with cheaper, renewable energy and transition to clean transport.

The time to act is now, if we want to avoid climate destabilization.

Additional Information

The UN Environment Program and World Meteorological Organization (UNEP/WMO) formed a committee of 50 experts to investigate the best ways to protect our climate. They considered a package of measures to reduce CO2 emissions and another to reduce methane (CH4) and black carbon (BC) emissions. The projected temperatures show there’s no hope of achieving the Paris target by just reducing CO2 emissions (red line). However, by also reducing BC and CH4 emissions (light blue line), global temperatures are about half a degree cooler in 2040, allowing time to complete the transition to renewable energy and transport.

Electricity generated from renewable sources is now cheaper than from fossil fuels. Large-scale solar is being built in Queensland for less than $70/MWh, much less than the current wholesale price of coal-fired power. The 530 MW Stockyard Hill wind farm in Victoria will generate power for just $55/MWh .The transition to cheap renewable energy seems inevitable, but we need time to build new solar and wind farms together with battery, pumped hydro or molten salt storage. Methane and black carbon rapidly disappear from the atmosphere if we stop emitting them, dramatically reducing the rate of current warming, and so preventing future warming.

We are now seeing critical changes to our climate such as the appearance of methane blow-holes in Siberia, a new 5 square km lake that seems to have been formed from an eruption of a cluster of blowholes, the flooding of the entrance to the global seed vault and a huge crack in the Antarctic ice shelf that will release an iceberg a quarter of the size of Wales and change the landscape of the Antarctic peninsula. Two thirds of the great barrier reef has suffered back-to-back mass coral bleaching with 70% of shallow water corals dead north of Port Douglas.

As well as being our only hope of keeping the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees, the UNEP/WMO package will improve our health and prevent several hundred thousand premature deaths from air pollution.

Please help spread the word that the best and most cost-effective way to keep the global temperature rise well below 2 degrees is a two-pronged strategy implementing the UNEP/WMO package of 16 measures to reduce CH4 + BC while at the same time doing all we can to replace fossil fuels with renewables.

 

 

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