[Viewpoint] Hope on global warming

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[Viewpoint] Hope on global warming

In 1997, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adopted the Kyoto Protocol - an agreement among signatory states to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. In 2012, however, the Clean Development Mechanism, a system of carbon credits in which each credit represents a country’s right to emit one ton of CO2, is set to expire. While policy makers struggle to extend it, carbon-finance specialists are seeking market-driven alternatives. Progress on the issue has stalled: at the last two UNFCCC conferences in Copenhagen and Cancun, Mexico, members failed to arrive at an agreement on emission cuts.

Reduction, or mitigation, of CO2 emissions is not easy. It is also expensive. The typical measures - carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), energy conservation and greater reliance on renewable energy sources like solar and wind - are all costly enterprises, often out of reach for poorer countries, where air pollution can be a serious problem.

But recent climate science may offer hope. Research indicates that black carbon (the soot from inefficient combustion in stoves, fires, engines, etc.) belongs to a class of substances that have an extremely high global warming potential. In particular, black carbon absorbs sunlight and radiates heat, thereby melting ice and snow.

Black carbon in the atmosphere also causes respiratory ailments, as Asian cities such as Shanghai, Bangkok and Manila have shown. Fine soot particles can penetrate the upper defenses of the respiratory tract and settle deep in the lungs. Children, the elderly and people with heart and lung diseases are at highest risk.

These substances exacerbate climate change, but they linger in the air only for short periods and are easy to remove. Black-carbon reduction thus offers developing countries an opportunity to mitigate climate change at a fraction of the cost of full CO2 reduction, while providing cleaner air for their people, simply by avoiding soot formation in engines, stoves and other combustion devices.

Moreover, Voluntary Emission Reduction (VER) credits are a potential new answer to the CO2 problem. VER credits are like carbon credits, but, rather than receiving funding from Kyoto Protocol sources, the private sector provides the financing.

Everyone wants cleaner air, but the costs of reducing air pollution are prohibitive in many parts of the world. By providing a financial as well as an environmental incentive, VER projects make CO2 reduction more accessible to the world’s poorer citizens. Private individuals and corporations will have to initiate such projects; we can no longer afford to wait for the UNFCCC to do the job.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2011.

*The writer is commissioner of the Philippine Climate Commission. This column was co-written by John Topping, Jr. , president of the Washington-based Climate Institute.

by Heherson Alvarez

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