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Opinions of Monday, 23 November 2015

Columnist: Ama Kudom-Agyemang

CCAC supports Ghana to tackle short-lived climate pollutants

The global focus of the fight against climate change has been to cut down carbon emissions because, according to some climate scientists, their associated warming could linger for up to a 1,000 years in the atmosphere.

Therefore, scientists have classified carbon as a “long-lived climate pollutant.” The why, how and when for countries to cut down carbon emissions is at the core of climate negotiations and has been the bone of contention between the developed and developing nations.

The science says excessive carbon dioxide emissions from mainly human activities of natural resources exploitation and industrialisation has led to global warming, resulting in climate change. Hence, most measures to tackle climate change are targeted at reducing emissions of carbon, particularly from industry, forestry, agriculture and land use, energy, and transport sectors, among others.

But aside carbon, there are other gases or substances known as “short-lived climate pollutants” (SLCP) that negatively impact the climate. Scientists say these are substances with relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere and a warming influence on near-term climate.

SLCPs include black carbon from smoke, vehicular and industrial emissions that last for days in the atmosphere methane from vehicular and industrial emissions, as well as from animal husbandry; this lasts for 12 years in the atmosphere; tropospheric ozone, also from emissions, lasts for weeks in the atmosphere; and hydrofluoro-carbons from refrigerators and aerosols can stay up to 12 years in the atmosphere.

The SLCPs are said to be powerful climate forcers and dangerous air pollutants that are detrimental to human health, agriculture and ecosystems within the short-term of their existence. They impact public health, food, water and security of large populations.

In view of their potentially harmful impacts, an initiative has emerged that is focusing on mitigating these pollutants. The initiative is spearheaded by the Climate and Clean Air Coalition (CCAC) to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants.

Founded in 2012, it is the first global effort to treat these pollutants as a collective challenge.

According to Martina Otto, Deputy Head of the CCAC Secretariat, “This initiative is unique because it is targeting SLCPs, air pollution and its relationship to health.”

In an interview in Accra, she called for urgent action on SLCPs, saying “delayed action on SLCP control measures will have significant negative consequences on temperature, cumulative sea level rise and human well being.” Ms Otto stressed that “actions to reduce SLCPs are complimentary to aggressive carbon mitigation to address climate change in the long term...”

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) have identified control measures that involve already existing technologies and practices. They include upgrading technologies for trapping black carbon emissions from diesel engines, widespread adoption of advanced cookstoves and clean fuels, and harnessing methane from landfills as a source of energy.

Projected benefits from quick action on SLCPs include avoided disruption of weather patterns; reduced air pollution; avoided annual premature deaths of up to 2.4 million lives from outdoor air pollution, which is the world’s greatest environmental health risk; and avoided crop losses of up to 52 million tonnes per year.

In order for partners to take advantage of evolving opportunities to mitigate SLCPs, the CCAC is undertaking an initiative known as Supporting National Planning for Action (SNAP) on SLCPs. The initiative allows partners to identify some key areas for action.

They include identifying major emission sources on which action could begin immediately; sources where action could occur in the future; the information, capacity and finance gaps, which need to be filled to ensure effective mitigation; and initial options to address some of the challenges such as sustainable financial sources posed by SLCP mitigation.

The SNAP process is supposed to be adapted to countries’ national context and owned by the governments. Ghana is a member of the CCAC and, therefore, a beneficiary of SNAP.

As part of the SNAP process in the country, institutional representatives want to ensure that the SNAP initiative is consistent with national priority. Therefore, they are working to establish linkages between the initiative and important national policy documents or processes such as the 40-year development planning process, National Environmental Policy, National Climate Change Policy, the Low Carbon Development Strategy and the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Ghana was supported by the CCAC to prepare its INDCs, thus the country was enabled to submit the document to United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat for consideration during the forthcoming COP 21 in Paris, France. INDCs consists mainly of commitments countries are expected to meet in order to keep average global temperature rise below 2ºC – the internationally-agreed limit aimed at curbing irreversible climate change.

To further strengthen and establish the SNAP process in Ghana, an inception meeting was recently held in Accra to build the capacity of participants on the SLCPs. It further provided a platform to update participants on the CCAC’s approved initiatives, and informed them of the different national structures put in place and how they are functioning in response to the SNAP process in Ghana.

On behalf of the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, Daniel Amlalo welcomed the SNAP process in the country, saying: “It will enable the country to strengthen and up-scale on-going actions to mitigate SLCPs.” He said, “This process is different from other climate change initiatives because it is focusing on an area – air pollution, which hitherto was not the focus of mitigating measures.”