The next round of international climate negotiations through the UN are going to begin soon in Cancun, Mexico. It’s no secret last year’s summit in Copenhagen was a major disappointment to environmental groups and climate activists, and there aren’t very high expectations for Cancun to correct course. However, we should obviously be looking to move forward wherever we can in the short-term while continuing to press for a long-term framework. The NY Times has published an editorial with a couple of suggests for how this progress can take place. I’m republishing parts below…
“But carbon dioxide is not the only kind of pollution that contributes to global warming. Other potent warming agents include three short-lived gases — methane, some hydrofluorocarbons and lower atmospheric ozone — and dark soot particles. The warming effect of these pollutants, which stay in the atmosphere for several days to about a decade, is already about 80 percent of the amount that carbon dioxide causes. The world could easily and quickly reduce these pollutants; the technology and regulatory systems needed to do so are already in place.
Take methane, for example, which is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in causing warming. It is emitted by coal mines, landfills, rice paddies and livestock. And because it is the main ingredient in natural gas, it leaks from many older natural-gas pipelines. With relatively minor changes — for example, replacing old gas pipelines, better managing the water used in rice cultivation (so that less of the rice rots) and collecting the methane emitted by landfills — it would be possible to lower methane emissions by 40 percent. Since saved methane is a valuable fuel, some of this effort could pay for itself.”
“Ozone, which is formed in the lower atmosphere from carbon monoxide, methane and other gases emitted by human activity, is a particularly hazardous component of urban smog. And every year it causes tens of billions of dollars in damage to crops worldwide. So pollution restrictions that reduce ozone levels, especially in the rapidly growing polluted cities of Asia, could both clear the air and slow warming.”
“Soot likewise offers an opportunity to marry local interests with the global good. A leading cause of respiratory diseases, soot is responsible for some 1.9 million deaths a year. It also melts ice and snow packs. Thus, sooty emissions from Asia, Europe and North America are helping to thin the Arctic ice. And soot from India, China and a few other countries threatens water supplies fed by the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers.”
“Credibility is especially important for the United States. It can already offer the world much of the technology and regulatory expertise that will be needed to reduce short-lived pollutants, particularly ozone and soot. Some American efforts are under way to share these technologies, including a program to help provide better cookstoves for people in developing countries. By making such programs more visible and demonstrating that they deliver tangible results, and by establishing a realistic plan for cutting its own emissions at home, the United States could show that it is serious about addressing climate change.”