Short-lived climate pollutants and climate change

Our best chance to avoid dangerous climate change is to reduce highly potent short-lived climate pollutants and carbon dioxide at the same time. Here's why.

Climate change is already transforming the planet.

The past five years were the hottest on record. As temperatures rise, the threats of exceptional global heat, severe wildfires, powerful storms, retreating ice, and rising sea levels are becoming far more likely.

If this trend continues unabated, it will have far-reaching, long-lasting consequences for livelihoods globally. Continued warming will accelerate feedback loops, like the loss of Arctic summer sea ice, causing the planet to warm even faster than it is now. These climate ‘tipping points’ would be irreversible and potentially catastrophic.

Fast action must be taken now to limit these threats. Measures to reduce short-lived climate pollutants can be implemented now and produce quick results.  

Five reasons why reducing short-lived climate pollutants is integral to climate action:

1. Rapidly reduce the rate of warming

Methane, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), black carbon and tropospheric ozone – known as short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) – are responsible for nearly half of warming today. They are tens to thousands of times more than powerful carbon dioxide (CO2) at warming the planet.

However, because they are in the atmosphere for a relatively short amount of time – a few days to a few decades – short-lived climate pollutants respond very quickly to reduction efforts.

By reducing emissions of these pollutants now, we can rapidly bend the global warming curve in the coming decades.

City heat wave. Photo by Marc Dufresne on iStock.

2. Necessary to keep warming to 1.5˚C

The Paris Agreement aims to limit global temperature rise this century to well below 2°C and to pursue efforts to limit it even further to 1.5°C to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

We are on the brink of missing the opportunity to reach these goals. Current commitments to the Paris Agreement will see temperatures rise by 3.2°C this century. Global temperatures have already risen by 1.1°C, and more frequent and extreme climatic events have left families, homes and communities devastated.

   

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Cutting SLCPs now can avoid up to 0.6°C of global warming by 2050. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on 1.5˚C found that decisive action to reduce these pollutants, along with deep cuts to CO2, is essential by 2030 to keep warming to 1.5˚C.

Melting sea ice could cause many metres of sea-level rise, affecting coastal cities.

3. Prevent dangerous tipping points

Taking steps to rapidly reduce the rate of warming is necessary to prevent runaway warming and dangerous climate tipping points, like melting Arctic ice, that can exacerbate long-term climate change impacts.

Arctic warming is now increasing at twice the global rate. Reducing SLCPs can cut the rate of Arctic warming by up to two-thirds and avoid over 50% of predicted warming in the Arctic by 2050.

These actions can also reduce the rate of sea-level rise by about 20% in the first half of this century. By 2100, cutting both carbon dioxide and SLCPs could reduce the rate of sea-level rise by up to 50%, which would give coastal communities and low-lying states time to adapt.

Photo by Gyan Shahane on Unsplash

4. Protect the most vulnerable

Everyone will be affected by climate change, but some are more vulnerable than others. People living in small island developing states, coastal regions, megacities, and mountainous and polar (cryosphere) regions are particularly vulnerable.

All forms of climate action, especially actions to reduce SLCPs, can change lives for the better. The important near-term climate benefits that SLCP mitigation delivers will benefit the poor and most vulnerable who often live on the frontlines of climate change.

Photo by Ratul Ghosh on Unsplash

5. We can cut emissions now

Solutions to cut SLCPs can be implemented today. All are based on existing technology and can be carried out at no or little cost.

Concerted global efforts can cut methane emissions by at least 40% and black carbon by up to 70% by 2030, and virtually eliminate (99.5%) high-global warming potential hydrofluorocarbons by 2050 (all compared to 2010 levels).

Solutions include actions like replacing and properly disposing of HFCs in refrigeration and air conditioning; reducing methane from waste (including food waste) and agriculture; reducing black carbon emissions from household cooking, lighting and heating, heavy-duty engines in trucks, buses and ships; and reducing methane leaks from oil and gas production.

Photo by Ivan Bandura on Unsplash

Explore the solutions

Practical, cost-effective technologies and techniques can be implemented now to reduce black carbon, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).
   

Sector solutions

How we’re driving action

The Coalition is the only global organisation dedicated to cutting SLCPS to stabilise the climate, limit warming to 1.5°C, and drastically reduce air pollution. Our partners are the driving force of this work.

We drive action by testing, implementing and sharing solutions, raising awareness, and engaging with leaders at the highest levels. Our Trust Fund provides resources for technical assistance and capacity building in developing countries, and targeted catalytic actions that transform sectors and reduce their SLCP emissions.