Monday, September 22, 2008

Co-benefits strategies to tackle climate change and air pollution

Scientists say that countries must take an integrated way to deal with climate change and air pollution but not separate the two in making policies because it will be cost effective and benefit both.

Co-benefits strategies in dealing with climate change and air pollution have been recommended at the end of the three day forum titled Air Pollution and Climate Change, developing a Framework for integrated Co-benefits Strategies which was held in Stockholm from September 17th to 19th.

The forum was organized by Stockholm Environment Institute and led by the UN Economic Commission for Europe Convention on Long-range Transboundary Air Pollution and the UNEP on behalf of the Global Forum’s partners and is being developed in consultation with the Secretariats of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization.

A summary of the discussions by about 100 scientists, professors and experts in climate change and air pollution field, calls on governments to address the air pollution and climate change in an integrated way since many developing countries still treat them as separated issues.

It says that an integrated co-benefits approach can achieve win-win solutions, for example China has integrated air pollution and greenhouse gas reduction policies. A recent assessment for Europe, China and India found that a 20% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions could lead to about a 15% decrease in air pollution-induced deaths. On the contrary, if people take separate strategies to deal with the two, it not only doubles the cost, but also causes problems to each other.

Participants also noted that it is important to adopt the co-benefits strategies at the national level even though such strategies can differ from region to region.

As for the implementation of the strategies, existing regional air pollution networks could play an important role and it is urgent to let various countries to know the strategy and implement the co-benefits and integrated strategies in making policies to handle the climate change and air pollution issues.

New research shows that air pollutants such as small particles and ozone, also have a major effect on climate. Black carbon particles, which remain in the air for several days have a net warming effect on planet by absorbing the energy from sunlight and reemitting it to the surrounding environment. These particles also contribute to air pollution that accounts for an estimated 800,000 premature deaths globally every year, most of which occur in Asian and developing countries according to the World Health Organization.

“The science now shows that air pollution and climate change are inextricably interlinked and cost-effective integration of air pollution and climate policies is more urgent than ever,” said Dr. V. Ramanathan, project chair of the UNEP Atmospheric Brown Cloud Project. “Drastic reduction of air pollutants that warm the earth in the short-term is one way to buy the planet time for developing cost-effective ways for reducing CO2 concentrations.” But the best way is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution simultaneously.

Professor Chen Changhong, representing the Asian group stressed that development and climate change are closely connected. In Asia, development is still the priority. Climate change and air pollution are also closely connected. To solve these problems, Asia needs more financial assistance and quicker technology transfer. In many areas, lack of knowledge dissemination and poor integration of air pollution control and climate change are still common phenomena.

He said the regional networks such as EANET and ASEAN Haze Agreement can help to form a framework in integrating air pollution and climate change. And scientists in air pollution, climate change and energy should sit together to discuss coordinated ways to deal with these issues. Policy makers should also be quickly informed about the co-benefits strategies and be motivated to take right actions.

By Xuefei Chen People’s Daily Online correspondent in Stockholm.

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