Not All Climate Pollutants Are Created Equal | Commentary

Posted October 20, 2014 at 3:34pm

Not all climate pollutants are created equal. While carbon dioxide shoulders a lot of the blame, it’s not the only bad actor when it comes to the climate. Short-lived climate pollutants, or the soot, methane and refrigerants that we call “super pollutants,” can warm the climate at a rate thousands of times greater than carbon dioxide. To tackle this important and far-reaching problem, we’ve introduced bipartisan legislation called the Super Pollutants Act of 2014.

Why are these super pollutants important? When it comes to combating climate change, targeting them gets you the biggest bang for your buck. Cutting these pollutants alone could slow climate warming by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius, avoid 2 million premature deaths each year and save 30 million tons of crops annually.

Although they persist in the atmosphere for a short time span when compared to CO2, these pollutants do a lot of damage while they’re there. The most common refrigerant compound used in cars and refrigerators warms the climate at 1,300 times the rate of CO2. Soot, including the black carbon emitted from traditional cookstoves, can warm the climate over a thousand times faster than CO2. Methane warms the climate 34 times faster than CO2. As the developing world modernizes, emissions of all three of these pollutants are likely to skyrocket — unless we do something.

These super pollutants can be tackled quickly and effectively. Furthermore, the U.S. is already a leader in the technologies needed to drive reductions. We are well-positioned to employ alternatives to the chemicals used in refrigeration and air conditioning, do a better job of replacing traditional cookstoves and diesel engines that generate soot, and harness fugitive methane seeping out of landfills, wastewater plants and pipelines.

Our legislation will help reduce super pollutants in our atmosphere by taking a number of steps to enable federal agencies to work with the business and nonprofit communities to speed the adoption of super pollutant-reducing technologies and policies, all while supporting American-led innovations to reduce these pollutants. Our legislation aims to foster interagency cooperation on super pollutants; prioritize commonsense, emissions-reduction strategies; and employ existing federal authorities and diplomatic programs through the recycling of high-global warming potential refrigerants, the mitigation of methane leaks, and expanding access to diesel-scrubbing technologies.

Taking these steps can save money, drive economic growth, and prevent death and disease around the world while helping to jump-start meaningful action on climate change. Calls for exporting clean diesel technologies and access to clean cookstoves are just two examples that have previously drawn bipartisan support.

The legislation’s approach has been endorsed by interested stakeholders in both the business and nongovernmental organization communities. The director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the National Resources Defense Council noted the need for “adding legislative muscle to the fight to curb key pollutants” such as methane. Similarly, United Technologies Building and Industrial Systems, a leading provider to building systems worldwide, stated that the proposal “promotes both ozone protection and improved energy efficiency of newer systems.” DuPont said the bill reflects “the kinds of common sense approaches” that both businesses and NGOs support. The Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy has also lauded the bill’s use of “market-oriented solutions” to address super pollutants.

While we recognize how difficult it is to enact new policies, we hope that our legislation will raise awareness of these harmful super pollutants — and signal that there’s some bipartisan willingness to address them in a common-sense way.

Sen. Christopher S. Murphy is a Democrat from Connecticut. Sen. Susan Collins is a Republican from Maine.