Speeches September 2011 - Steiner Calls for Action to Reduce Short Lived Climate Forces at Mexico Ministerial Meeting - United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
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Steiner Calls for Action to Reduce Short Lived Climate Forces at Mexico Ministerial Meeting

Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director (UNEP)

Ministerial Meeting on Short Lived Climate Forcers (SLCFs)

Mexico, 12 September 2011-Honourable minister, ladies and gentlemen.

Today's meeting comes some nine months before Rio+20-nearly 20 years after the Earth Summit of 1992, the world is again on the road to Rio.

1992 was an extraordinary moment in time and generated several treaties central to international cooperation and sustainable development including the UN Convention on Climate Change.

Real achievements and transformational instruments have been evolved under this UN convention.

Who would have thought 20 years ago that carbon would be traded like sugar or silver on global commodity markets or that offsets, generating clean energy projects in developing countries, would become established under the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism.

Last year, according to UNEP's global trends in sustainable energy, over $210 billion was invested in clean, renewable energy systems.

Nevertheless, there remains a significant gap in ambition versus reality in terms of getting the globe on track to keep world-wide temperatures under that critical 2 degrees C.

The emissions gap report, launched last year and coordinated by UNEP in partnership with climate modelling centres, points to a gap equal to around 5 Giggatones of C02 equivalent even under the best commitments and pledges by nations.

Many peer reviewed science papers have been emerging that warn of a 4 degree C temperature rise by around 2050 unless urgent action is taken-4 degrees is a terrifying prospect with profound implications for ecosystems, human well-being and regional and global security on multiple fronts.

This does not however need to happen if we act on all the opportunities for action.

Atmospheric Brown Cloud-Raises the Issue

UNEP's involvement in the issue of SLCFs dates back some ten years when my predecessor, Klaus Toepfer, was taken up by scientists in a light aircraft over the Himalayas.

He and colleagues at UNEP were astonished by the scene and photos taken that day-a bright blue sky; bright white ice caps and then this huge band of brown smeared across the mountain range.

Dr Toepfer immediately commissioned a study from the scientists concerned-researchers linked with what is known as the INDOEX experiment.

That report, focusing largely on black carbon, was launched in advance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002 and the UNEP Atmospheric Brown Cloud project was born.

The project, led by Professor Ramanathan at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California and Paul Crutzen, the distinguished Dutch Nobel Prize winning chemist, began providing some of the early analysis linking black carbon with climate change and other impacts including increased agricultural damage and public health concerns.

It also began raising both political and public awareness while also triggering some polarized views-including whether cutting SLCFs might, or might not, have a big global climate benefit.

Montreal Protocol Underlines Multiple Benefits

This and our current work has also been given impetus by scientific analysis and decisions taken by member states under the Montreal Protocol on Substance that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

I am sure you aware that over the past five years it has emerged that cutting the gases that attack the ozone layer have not only catalysed its recovery, but also contributed to addressing global warming.

Governments took a decision to accelerate a freeze and phase-out of replacement fluorinated gases under the Montreal Protocol specifically for the double benefits of ozone and climate protection.

2011-the Science on SLCFs Matures

Let me fast forward to June this year-a moment in time where both the science and to an extent the policy options for action remarkably matured and which in a sense has made this meeting possible and meaningful today.

Here was launched the UNEP/World Meteorological Organization's Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone compiled by international researchers from more than 50 researchers and chaired by Drew Shindell of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

The importance of this report, covering also methane cannot be underestimated.

Firstly, it puts some clear numbers on the likely climate benefits from fast-action in large part because these pollutants, unlike C02 which persists in the atmosphere for centuries, stay in the atmosphere for days, months or in the case of methane an average of 12 years.

. Fast action might help keep a temperature rise below 2 degrees C and perhaps 1.5 degrees C, says this assessment

. Fast action should also reduce regional melting of ice in for example the Arctic and the Himalayas

Secondly, the report also points to the way some of these pollutants are working together to aggravate the climate challenge.

. Higher amounts of ground level ozone are being catalysed by rising emissions of methane-so acting on one generates two benefits in terms of reducing temperature rise.

Thirdly the assessment also puts some numbers on the agricultural benefits.

. Reduced crop damage equal to between one to four per cent of the annual global maize, rice, soybean and wheat production

Fourthly, health.

. Close to 2.5 million premature deaths from outdoor air pollution could on average be avoided annually world-wide by 2030 with many of those lives saved being in Asia, it is estimated.

And fifth, the report provides some initial target sectors where action should make a real difference.

So we have a level of clarity on the science that requests and requires us to act and act in a more targeted and systematic way.

We perhaps also have the politics on our side.

While the formal, legal process continues to struggle, fast action on the SLCFs offers a cooperative way forward by all nations and for multiple, what one could call, Green Economy reasons.

Not as an alternative path to the legal process, but as a complimentary and perhaps voluntary one.

That path will become clearer and more compelling in a few weeks time when in advance of the Durban climate COP UNEP-with support from governments including Sweden- release the Near Term Climate Protection and Clean Air Benefits: Actions to Reduce Short Lived Climate Forcers.

The report shapes and sharpens, through a global but also regional lens, the kinds of focused actions countries and groups of countries can take across a range of sectors on black carbon, ground level ozone and methane.

It is a foundation upon which governments can come together to formulate an action plan.

Honourable Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

Some Action on SLCFs Underway

Action is already underway to begin managing down some of these SLCFs-some of which provide elements of that plan.

In brief:

. Global Alliance for Clean Cook stoves: The Alliance is a $250 million public-private partnership established last year in which UNEP participates.

. Project Surya: Project Surya aims to provide sustainable, pro-environment, pro-poverty, pro-health, pro-women action plan, infrastructure and technologies to switch to cleaner technologies such as efficient cooking stoves. The project is embarking into scaling-up with successful completion of pre-pilots in India and Kenya.

. Scaling-up Local Cook Stove Markets: Designed to assist the global alliance by providing for example microfinance and assisting government policies that can assist entrepreneurs and companies in countries such as Ghana, Honduras and Nepal scale-up production and sales of high quality cook stoves and fuels.

. UNEP/GEF project - Russian Federation Partnership on Sustainable Environmental Management in the Arctic Under a Rapidly Changing Climate: UNEP is working with Russia to include a SLCF component in their Arctic Agenda 2020 project for the GEF.

. Mexico SLCF Project: UNEP is supporting Mexico to develop a proposal on national policy options for tackling SLCF for submission to the GEF

. Joint Bangladesh-Sweden Policy Seminar for the South Asian region: The Governments of Bangladesh and Sweden are organising a two-day Policy Seminar for the South Asian region on Short-lived Climate Forcers (17-18 October 2011 in Dhaka, Bangladesh). The purpose of the seminar will be to share experiences and practices and to promote strategic action at national and international scales on short-lived climate forcers.

. ABC Phase II: Project ABC has entered into phase II with the expansion of geographical scope into Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean regions and development of a policy team to support the policy developments at the national, regional, and global levels.

Moving Forward-Regional Air Quality Agreements?

The question before this meeting is in many ways how to take these fledgling activities and build upon them into a transformational, global effort that provides scientific and technical support, creative financing such as microfinance and perhaps the Prototype Methane Fund and above all long term sustainability.

One possibility is to make SLCFs one of the 'big ticket' items for Rio+20, although again a note of caution: it is likely that only a few big cooperative agreements between governments will be agreed.

Another path, perhaps stand alone or complimentary to a Rio+20 effort are the regional air quality agreements in developed and developing countries.

Earlier this year the UN-Economic Commission for Europe's Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution took the first steps towards incorporating black carbon into its agreement.

What about others, including ones in the developing world.

UNEP stands ready to assist, in part because over the years we have facilitated, participated or have taken the role of secretariat in close to a dozen regional air quality agreements in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

UNEP also stands ready to provide advice to others as part of its experience in the above mentioned initiatives as well as continuing to provide scientific analysis and coordination of this expertise.

So I would like to close there and listen to the debate on how best to proceed.

But let me add that it is UNEP's perspective that the world has a golden, cost-effective, practical and probably uncontested opportunity to move fast action on climate change forward while addressing other serious and significant sustainable development challenges.

It would be a strong and powerful signal to Rio+20 and beyond, if this meeting could agree that an action plan is needed and can be matured and realized in 2012.

Thank you

Atmospheric brown cloud



Further Resources

Download report: Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone (summary)

Video of report launch at UN Climate Change Conference

Air Pollution Networks

UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, 6 - 17 June 2011

UNEP and Climate Change


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