Leading International Environmental NGOs Press Biden Administration for Immediate Action on Short-Lived Climate Pollutants in First 100 Days

by Clean Air Task Force - 5 February, 2021
Reducing methane, black carbon and HFCs are critical to slowing global warming in next 2-3 decades; Groups seek commitments before global climate summit.

A coalition of leading international environmental organizations, spearheaded by the Clean Air Task Force, have sent a joint letter to top White House officials asking them to aggressively address the climate-damaging effects of short-lived climate pollutants (also known as super pollutants) prior to President Biden’s Global Climate Summit, scheduled for Earth Day on April 22.

The letter is addressed to the senior members of President Biden’s Climate team — John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, Gina McCarthy, the White House National Climate Advisor, and Michael Regan, the incoming Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

On Inauguration Day, the Biden Administration announced that the US would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement, setting a positive backdrop for its ambitious, comprehensive domestic and international climate programs.  The NGOs are now calling on the administration to include early action on super pollutants, pollutants such as hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), black carbon, and methane, in the focus of the administration’s early actions on climate.

To stabilize climate, we need serious surgery on the global energy system over the coming decades but reducing methane and other super pollutants is immediate First Aid that slows the bleeding.
Armond Cohen

Super pollutants have a relatively short life in the atmosphere but an outsized impact on climate, responsible for over 45% of current warming. Reducing them offers a near-term climate win that can dramatically reduce the rate of warming.

The ripest target for immediate action is also the largest: methane.  The groups specifically call on the Administration to target methane pollution from the oil and gas sector and to utilize existing authority to quickly cut methane emissions from this industry to 65% below 2012 levels by 2025. Internationally, the IEA estimates that global emissions from this industry can be cut by 75% by 2030, and the US must re-engage on methane through the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, relaunching the Global Methane Alliance, and strengthening the International Methane Emissions Observatory.

Actions by the US on methane will augment a growing interest in reducing this harmful pollution.  The European Union has committed to legislative action to target both domestic methane emissions as well as to develop policies to reduce methane from the gas the EU purchases.  With both the Biden Administration and the European Commission prioritizing action on methane, there is a clear and exciting possibility of transatlantic collaboration and global progress.

Another harmful super pollutant, black carbon, can be addressed through clean fuel standards, transitioning to electric vehicles, reducing emissions from shipping, and improved agricultural practices.  Internationally, heavy fuel oils for shipping are a major cause of black carbon pollution, especially in the Arctic, and can be addressed via the International Maritime Organization and other multinational regulatory bodies.

In the US, HFCs, a refrigerant with a powerful climate impact, have finally been addressed by new legislation that provides additional climate benefits by recovering, recycling, or destroying HFCs. Further, appliance efficiency standards can be raised to reduce the energy used by cooling equipment.  Also, by moving quickly to ratify the Kigali Amendment, the State Department can solidify global action on HFCs.

In closing, the letter underscores the essential need to curb CO2 emissions that must go hand in hand with super pollutant mitigation, to ensure that the warming curve does not breach the 1.5 – 2-degree Celsius limits to protect against irreversible climate tipping points.

“To stabilize climate, we need serious surgery on the global energy system over the coming decades but reducing methane and other super pollutants is immediate First Aid that slows the bleeding,” said Armond Cohen, Founder and Executive Director of Clean Air Task Force.  “We must act now as if the fate of the planet depends on it. Because it does.”

Signatories to the letter besides Clean Air Task Force include Center for Human Rights and Environment, Earthjustice, Earthworks, The Climate Group, Environmental Defense Fund, Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club.

The Clean Air Task Force was recently elected to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition’s Steering Committee, as one of two NGO representatives. The other NGO representative is the World Resources Institute.  The other current members of the Steering Committee include six country partners – Canada, Colombia, the European Commission, Japan, Jordan and the Philippines; and two international organisations – the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development. The Steering Committee is currently chaired by Ghana and Switzerland.