Where anti-smog laws exist in developing countries, these have often been rendered inutile by poor enforcement
On July 24 - European Union members states including the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Denmark and Finland joined the coalition
initiated by United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reduce the emission of short-lived climate substances. These include black carbon, methane and chlorofluorocarbon refrigerants. By short-lived, this means that these substances settle down to earth or dissipate much more quickly as compared to carbon dioxide, which stays in the air for a very long time. We have all seen this with soot. We see it in our cars, our street signs and on our skin, hair and lungs. And we see it outdoors in the cities, especially in Asia, like Manila, Shanghai and Bangkok.
Black carbon - commonly called soot - is the by-product of inefficient combustion from poorly designed cooking stoves, badly maintained engines used in public transport, dry brush clearing fires and so on. The problem is especially acute in Asia, where much of the public transport is based on the use of surplus and oftentimes dilapidated and poorly maintained engines. Black carbon in the atmosphere is also a public health issue. In many countries, the concentrations are high enough to cause significant public health issues such as asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems. While enforcement of anti-smog laws, the availability of cleaner fuels and better engine technologies have remedied the problem to some extent in developed countries such as America and Japan, in Asian or 'third world' countries it is another matter altogether.
Technically speaking, the problem is easy to fix. Unlike CO2 mitigation, which is fixed by not burning fossil fuels, mitigation of black carbon is only a matter of fixing or replacing dilapidated engines and poorly designed cooking stoves - and discarding poor-burning practices. But until now, there has been no economic incentive to fix this problem. And so the business as usual case in many countries is to proceed with the status quo. What needs to happen is for money to be spent in order to repair or replace the millions of poorly designed cooking stoves and surplus dilapidated engines, which are operating out there.
Climate financing might offer a way out of this dilemma. Journal papers such as those published by scientists in Nature
state that black carbon is a powerful short lived climate forcing agent, with a warming potential several thousand times that of carbon dioxide. According to the United Nations Environment Program, cutting back on short-lived climate pollutants may reduce global warming expected by 2050 by as much as 0.5 degrees Celsius - therefore buying us more time. You probably know this instinctively. As anyone who has touched a dark-coloured automobile on a hot summer day can attest, dark substances such as black carbon absorb and do not reflect sunlight. Instead, they emit heat to their immediate surroundings. In the Arctic and areas like the Himalayas, black carbon carried by winds also weakens the reflectivity of ice and accelerate the melting; reducing the ability of ice sheets to reflect sunlight back to space.
Because black carbon pollution is a 'tragedy of the commons' - a problem that affects a common resource that everyone uses - there has been no real financial incentive to remedy the problem. Where anti-smog laws exist in developing countries, these have often been rendered inutile by poor enforcement in many cases. So the status quo in many developing countries is to continue with poorly designed cooking stoves, brush clearing fires or to use cheap surplus rebuilt engines for public transport; contributing to the air pollution problem.
Carbon financing, if applied to short-lived climate forcers like black carbon can offer a way out of this 'tragedy of the commons' problem - solving both its climate impact and fixing long-neglected public health issues. While European support for this coalition does not imply that it should reduce the push to cut back on Kyoto Protocol defined greenhouse gases, nevertheless the combination of climate and public health benefits make this an equally attractive proposition for the EU to pursue in combination with traditional greenhouse gas mitigation efforts.Dennis Posadas is an Asia-based fellow of the Climate Institute Centre for Environment Leadership Training at Dartmouth College, in the United States