In search of win-win ways to address climate change

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Bangladesh has been identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as one of the countries most vulnerable to rising sea levels. (Photo: UNDP in Bangladesh)

Compelling scientific evidence indicates that reducing short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) might slow down global warming by up to 0.5⁰C between 2010 and 2050. These SLCPs are agents with a relatively short lifetime in the atmosphere that warm the climate, like black carbon, methane and Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs).

A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that by reducing the presence of these pollutants we could prevent more than 2 million premature deaths  worldwide each year, and an annual crop loss of more than 30 million tons after 2030. But if nothing is done, the impacts of climate change could translate into devastating consequences for sustainable development.

The world is relentlessly trying to find solutions that reconcile economic growth and development with the need to control the increase of greenhouse gases. So is the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

By addressing short-lived climate pollutants we are implementing a model with positive impact on climate change, while improving the environment, economies and people’s health. And we are not alone.

UNDP is a partner to the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants (CCAC) and focuses on reducing the negative impact of HFCs on climate and energy use. This is important because the use of HFCs is rapidly increasing in important economic sectors such as air-conditioning, refrigeration, solvents, foam blowing and aerosols – in these sectors, HFCs are replacing ozone-depleting substances controlled by the Montreal Protocol.

While HFCs do not have an impact on the ozone layer, they are still very potent greenhouse gases. By some estimates HFC emissions could constitute up to 20 percent of global CO2 emissions by 2050 in business-as-usual scenarios (PDF).

Safe and energy-efficient non-HFC technologies

With funds from the CCAC, UNDP’s Montreal Protocol – Chemicals Unit (MPU) is helping Bangladesh, Chile, Colombia, Ghana, Indonesia and Nigeria carry out HFC inventories to assess the current consumption of HFCs. This will help develop options for reducing the use of these substances.

UNDP is also helping the Maldives study an innovative approach to climate-friendly city-wide cooling in Male. This system would entirely avoid HFCs while improving energy efficiency. Another project for Chile was just approved by the CCAC in April 2014 related to cooling systems in supermarkets by eliminating HFC-refrigerants with the use of trans-critical CO2 technology.

Through bilateral funds, another UNDP project is currently showcasing safe and energy-efficient technologies with low global-warming potential in the air-conditioning sector in Indonesia.

The Montreal Protocol’s extensive and positive experience to phase out ozone-depleting substances is thus being used to help develop ways to decrease the consumption of HFCs. This would add to the enormous climate benefits of the Montreal Protocol and bring significant near-term climate benefits.