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Q&A: Johan Kuylenstierna on the new coalition to reduce short-lived climate pollutants

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Written by Marion Davis

Thursday, 23 February 2012 17:02

The ABC Coke plant in Bartonville, Alabama. The U.S. is leading a new coalition to reduce soot, methane and HFCs, to slow climate change and achieve many co-benefits. FLICKR/Wally Argus-argusfoto

The SEI York Centre director, who coordinated two major UNEP reports on this topic, answers questions about the initiative and its potential to make an impact around the world.

On Feb. 16, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Swedish Minister of the Environment Lena Ek, environment ministers from Bangladesh, Canada and Mexico, and the Ghanaian ambassador to the U.S. launched the new Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants.

The coalition, to be supported by the United Nations Environment Programme, is the first effort to reduce black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), and methane together, as a collective challenge. Johan C.I. Kuylenstierna attended the event and is part of ongoing discussions.

Q: How did this coalition come to be, and how closely does it follow UNEP’s findings?
JK: It began around last summer, between the countries and with UNEP, after UNEP launched its Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone in June, which SEI helped coordinate and contributed to. Some of these country representatives met again in Bangladesh, at a seminar on SLCFs we helped organise, at COP17 in Durban, and other meetings.

The coalition is closely following the recommendations in the assessment and in a subsequent UNEP report that SEI also coordinated, though it has also added hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) to the list of pollutants to be addressed. UNEP and many authors of the assessment and report were invited to the launch, reflecting the importance of these assessments to this political announcement.

Q: The partners have committed $15 million to get the coalition going, and are speaking ambitiously about national-level and global action. How big a deal is all this? Could it make a significant impact?
JK: It has the potential to do so; it depends on what happens next. One of the barriers to implementing these measures is political will: without it, you don’t get anywhere. So it’s significant that these countries are saying publicly that this is what they want to do.

The second barrier for many of the measures is the upfront financing, and they’re talking not just about putting up money to start up the initiatives, but also about mobilizing resources. For example, there’s a discussion about launching a Global Environmental Facility programme focused on SLCFs, possibly in Mexico, and similar things could be done in other countries. Then you’re talking about significant amounts of money that could flow to actually get things happening.


Q: This is an unusual mix of countries. What brings them together?
JK: The ministers of Bangladesh and Sweden started talking about this quite a while ago. Sweden has decided to make this a priority, because it has co-benefits both for development and climate, it helps developing countries, and it also benefits for the Arctic, where Sweden is very active. In Bangladesh, on the other hand, they have made it a priority to reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution, and climate change is also very important to them, given that they’re one of most vulnerable countries.

With the United States, a lot of the research into SLCFs has been conducted there, and I think they see this as an area where they can get something done. For Canada, protecting the Arctic is a motivator. And Ghana also sees this as a gender issue, because in Africa, one of the big sources of black carbon is burning of biomass for cooking. In general, for the developing countries, the health and air pollution issues are a major entry point, and for some, climate is also a major issue.

Q: There’s been some concern that focusing on SLCFs could undermine efforts to reduce CO2 emissions.
JK: Hopefully there will be no undermining. The scientists involved in the assessment have emphasised that this in no way is a replacement for very strong CO2 reductions, because it can only significantly affect near-term climate change. What we found is if we implement these 16 measures fully, everywhere you can, by 2030, you get a pretty good impact between 2030 and 2050 of 0.5°C benefit compared with a baseline scenario, but you’ve done everything then, and you’ve got the benefit by 2050. And if you keep emitting CO2 between now and 2050, this could lead to serious climate change in the long term.

So these are not alternatives; they are complementary. Of course that’s on the scientific level. On the political level, I think it’s important that the countries are seeing this as complementary, and indeed, Hillary Clinton said those words, that this is complementary and not a replacement for CO2.

Q: What role will you be playing in this new effort?
JK: UNEP will likely help with coordination on behalf of the coalition. And SEI would seek to support the development of the coalition, and support UNEP in their further activities related to SLCFs.

Read articles about the coalition launch, both quoting Johan Kuylenstierna, in The Washington Post and ClimateWire »

Read a fact sheet on CCAC produced by the U.S. State Department »

The coalition founding partners (from left): U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern; UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner; Environment Ministers Juan Rafael Elvira, of Mexico, and Peter Kent, of Canada; U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson; Bangladesh Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud; Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek; and Ghanian Ambassador Daniel Ohene Agyekum. / U.S. State Department photo.

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