by Vyoma Jha
On 16 February 2012, Hillary Clinton launched the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC), a “new global effort to fight climate change, protect health, improve agricultural productivity, and strengthen energy security”, with 7 founding coalition partners: Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, and the United States, along with the United Nations Environment Programme.
Short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane, black carbon or soot, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), account for approximately one-third of current global warming and according to a UNEP report reducing these pollutants can deliver near-term climate protection of about half a degree Celsius by 2040.
Clinton noted that this is a significant 25% of the world’s goal to keep global temperature rise to under 2C by the end of the century and adds,
“[w]hen we discover effective and affordable ways to reduce global warming – not just a little, but by a lot – it is a call to action.”
The UNEP report further identifies a package of 16 major actions on how to reduce these pollutants, which include replacing inefficient cookstoves and traditional brick kilns with more efficient ones, stopping the burning of agricultural waste, harvesting coal mine methane, improving wastewater treatment, and adopting emissions standards on vehicles. Given the fact that most of these actions are said to be based on existing technology and considered low-cost interventions, Clinton emphasised this as an “important opportunity” that could not be missed.
The Coalition will have a dedicated fund, with initial contributions of $12 million dollars and $3 million dollars from the United States and Canada, respectively. The funding from the United States will be new and in addition to the $10 million in annual support already provided to each of two existing efforts: the Global Methane Initiative and the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.
Reactions to this initiative, according to a New York Times report, range from it being “really appealing” to being in the “win-win category – good on climate at the same time that it’s good on health, food production and energy”.
Durwood Zaelke, president of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, said that “[t]his is a formal declaration that we’re opening a second front in the climate war.” According to him, if expanded and adequately financed, this initiative would have more impact on the climate than the United Nations climate change negotiations, at least in the near term. In a somewhat damning statement, he said, “We’d be fools to count on the U.N.F.C.C.C. for our salvation, though I wish it well”.
Criticism and participation?
While welcome as one initiative, the CCAC is no panacea. The WWF strongly criticised it, arguing that the “big emitters like the US and Canada” who (having done very little to reduce CO2 emissions) are advancing this Coalition, which in turn “shifts the focus” (of cutting emissions) to developing countries.
Although there is no official reaction to or position on CCAC, earlier this year India opposed the recommendations of a high-profile panel of the United Nation Secretary General (UNSG) on Global Sustainability. The move, recommending that the world adopt sustainable development targets, has been cited by India as “creating a backdoor for caps on emissions and green targets, while breaching the firewall between developing and rich countries that is enshrined in the Rio declaration and the UN convention on climate change”.
The onus of reducing short-lived climate pollutants is likely to fall on developing countries. With a vast majority of the Indian population relying on the fuels targeted under this initiative for their subsistence energy needs, any near-term goals to reduce short-term climate pollutants could invite opposition in Indian policy circles. In spite of being in the name of improving health, energy access and gender inequalities (see, statements by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek), many questions remain unresolved. Will sufficient finance be available for cleaner technologies? How will new standards be governed and at which forum (UNFCCC or Montreal Protocol)? And what will it mean for commitments to reduce CO2 emissions under the UNFCCC by developed countries?
This week, the Coalition held its first meeting in Stockholm announcing that it has expanded to 13 members. The new members joining the Coalition are Colombia, Japan, Nigeria, Norway, and the European Commission along with the World Bank. In addition, five other countries (Australia, Denmark, Finland, the Republic of Korea, and the United Kingdom) attended the meeting as observers to find out the Coalition’s future plans. The meeting also established a new Trust Fund to support the Coalition’s efforts. The initial pledges now amount to approximately $16.7 million and are set to grow significantly in the coming year. With the Coalition gaining momentum, India needs to quickly assess its stand on short-lived climate pollutants. Engaging in the conversation informally might be one way of ensuring that new rules detrimental to its interests do not emerge.