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For the next two years, Rick Duke will serve as co-chair of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), along with Peter Dery from Ghana’s Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation. Duke recently worked as a consultant and Brookings senior fellow and prior to that, served as Special Assistant to President Obama where he helped to craft and implement the Climate Action Plan, including defining the 2025 emissions reduction target for the Paris Agreement. Duke also worked closely with the CCAC and others to get the critical environmental agreement, the Kigali Amendment on HFCs to the Montreal Protocol, across the finish line.
We discussed what he’s looking forward to accomplishing, why methane is the most critical climate fight to prevent near term warming, and why the CCAC is so well-placed to lead that fight.
You’ve worked in climate change for years, including as Special Assistant to President Obama, What made you decide to dedicate your life’s work to climate change?
I really started to obsess about climate change when I was in college and studying both environmental policy and economics. There’s really no bigger market failure than climate change, which made this intersection of problems the toughest and the most interesting.
I looked around and saw that there were ways in which we were making headway on local pollution by cleaning up U.S. waterways and the local air. It was imperfect and not always equitable but at least there was quite dramatic progress. In many ways, that was because people know they want the water near their home to be clean and they want the air they’re breathing to be pure— so the government responded.
Responding to climate change, however, was uniquely challenging because it was such a global and comprehensive market failure, and that made me want to work on it. I’ve always been drawn to larger scale challenges and this was the largest scale of them all and it had a clear role for government and diplomacy in solving it.
I also credit Al Gore with his Earth in the Balance book which was really galvanizing. It struck a chord with the whole world, myself included.
What are you most excited about accomplishing during your time as co-chair?
I’m excited to be a part of a coalition aimed at such a crucial issue at this moment in history. The CCAC’s mission is tackling potent short-lived climate pollutants--one of the highest-impact, highest-potential angles to containing climate change. The fastest way to pump the brakes on dangerous climate change is to cut these super pollutants— it’s the fastest mitigation strategy we have right now.
The CCAC is the longstanding place for governments and other stakeholders to come together to cooperate and try to address this most urgent part of addressing climate change and it has a track record of success.
You helped mobilize one of the CCAC’s major successes when you worked with the coalition to build support for the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol during your time as an adviser to President Obama. What are some of the key lessons you learned from this success and how can they support the CCAC’s work in the future?
The CCAC was a core partner throughout that process by helping governments around the world to see that this was a solvable challenge, that this was something that needed to be tackled and could be addressed through diplomacy and cooperation.
The Kigali Amendment is one of the most successful environmental treaties in the world and the CCAC should be really proud to have been a part of forging it. It has the potential to reduce up to half a degree of Celsius of warming by 2100, which is an extraordinary and unique contribution to containing the threat of climate change.
Even today, the CCAC is helping to give governments the confidence and tools to implement their requirements to phase down HFCs under the agreement.
An important lesson we can learn from the multi-year effort it took to get the Kigali Amendment done is that it’s important to have clarity about the prize at the end of the campaign early on. There were studies done, including contributions from the CCAC, that clarified that this was a massive opportunity to contain climate change. As a result, world leaders recognized that this was an extraordinary opportunity and put it high on their list of diplomatic priorities—including John Kerry who focused intensively on forging the Kigali deal as Secretary of State for President Obama.
Why is methane an important focus area?
Methane has the potential to reduce over 0.2 degrees Celsius by just 2050. There is nothing else that can help to control the climate crisis as quickly, including controlling CO2. Of course, we need to stay focused on cutting all greenhouse gases. The nature of methane as a potent SLCP, however, means that it has these immediate benefits to avoiding climate change whereas anything we do to cut CO2 will yield sustained benefits long term.
The CCAC has a critical role to play in finding creative ways to move faster to cut methane emissions in this decade. We need to work together to draw all the lessons that we can from the successes of HFC mitigation, as well as the work that CCAC has done on black carbon, to put maximum effort into this next critical opportunity.
What role should the CCAC play in catalysing cuts in methane emissions around the world?
The CCAC has already made an extraordinarily important contribution with the Global Methane Assessment (GMA), which uses state-of-the-art modelling to more precisely document and quantify the benefits of methane reductions. This tool can help mobilize governments, the private sector, nonprofits, philanthropy, multilateral development banks, and others to put methane emissions high on their priority list and to think creatively about how to work together to cut methane emissions. The GMA is already helping to signal that this is a massive opportunity that stakeholders should prioritize for investment.
What we need is exactly the creativity that the CCAC can bring through its catalysing and convening capacity and its technical and analytic capacity because we need all hands on deck to tackle this problem.
We need a whole range of players to make this happen: we need governments working on the standards and regulations but we also need multilateral development banks to help scale up investment in methane solutions. We also need NGOs to support and develop a pipeline of investable projects and help identify policy options for governments. We need the private sector to step up and respond to all this activity by investing in things like leak detection and repair for fossil fuel systems and scaling up agricultural methane reduction strategies.
The CCAC is well placed to help bring all those players together.
Why should countries invest in the CCAC as part of their climate finances commitments? What kinds of creative finance strategies can the CCAC use to mobilize philanthropic and government funding to spur widespread action on SLCPs?
In the case of HFCs, there was a clear diplomatic strategy that the world could work on together in the form of the Kigali Amendment. In the case of methane, we need a much more multifaceted and creative strategy that addresses everything from government policies to catalyzing innovation. At the heart of the challenge is a need for investment in the parts of the world where investment capital is often scarce.
We need to make sure that governments and industry have the ability to scale up solutions ranging from capturing methane from landfills and converting it to electricity, to collecting methane from agricultural facilities to create electricity. From there we also need to make sure that there's an ability to get that electricity into the power grid. This is all going to require rapid scale up if we're going to deliver on the kind of methane reductions that the CCAC and the Global Methane Assessment has underscored as both possible and necessary to managing the risks of climate change in the very near term.
The CCAC can play a key role in this precisely because it is complicated. The kind of work that CCAC has already pulled together with the GMA is what’s needed in terms of analysis and reports to outline in full detail where the prize lies on methane reductions investments. The CCAC can pull together ministers and leaders in international financial institutions and the private sector to make sure that they understand the landscape of opportunity for investing in methane reduction.
There is no more important priority for this decade on climate change than moving as quickly and ambitiously as possible to cut methane emissions—The CCAC is very well placed to make that work happen.
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