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Diving Deeper

What are Super Pollutants?

Work Area: Super Pollutants

Significant, sustained reductions in carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions will be the foundation for any successful climate strategy—but that central truth does not eliminate the need to also reduce the powerful climate forcing influence of other climate pollutants, like methane and black carbon. These potent climate pollutants also have significant harmful effects on both human health and the environment.

Methane and black carbon are part of a group of super pollutants. Super pollutants derive their name from their relatively short life in the atmosphere as compared to carbon dioxide. For example, black carbon has a lifespan in the atmosphere of just a few days before falling to the earth, and methane persists for a little more than a decade. By contrast, the climate impacts of each ton of CO₂ emitted can last for hundreds of years.

These differences in lifetime impacts in the atmosphere, along with co-benefit health impact reductions, and the feasibility and low cost of reductions, are the reason more and more policy makers are beginning to push for deep near-term reductions in super pollutants in addition to reductions in carbon dioxide. And given the current pace of global warming and the risk of irreversible changes, we can and must take immediate steps to cool the planet.

Recognizing that we must do all we can to take immediate steps to cool our planet, CATF launched its super pollutants initiative in 2005, bringing together leading scientists and technology experts to focus on what can be done. As our work expanded, so too did the interest of policy makers worldwide. Today, more than a dozen national and international bodies are considering policies to implement some of the pollution control measures CATF has been examining.

CATF works in a number of sectors, including a focus on reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector and black carbon emissions from oil and gas flaring and the shipping industry. These offer the most promising targets for immediate cleanup through cost effective solutions and readily implementable policy changes. Near-term reductions are of particular importance in the case of snow- and ice-covered regions, including the Arctic where warming is occurring at twice the rate of the rest of the world. Reducing emissions of these super pollutants also can lead to improved air quality and public health: methane is associated with VOCs, which cause ozone smog, and black carbon is a constituent of deadly particulate matter.

CATF is actively advocating for super pollutant reductions in international and domestic venues, supporting scientific research, promoting policy initiatives, encouraging the development of financial incentives for pollution controls, and championing and defending standards that can dramatically reduce emissions of these significant air pollutants.

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