Calif. to seek big cuts in short-lived climate pollutants like black carbon

Source: Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, September 28, 2015

California will seek large cuts in levels of short-lived climate pollutants methane, hydrofluorocarbons and black carbon, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said in New York City yesterday.

Speaking at the United Nations, Brown told a panel that the Golden State next week will formally announce the move. The Air Resources Board (ARB) will pursue regulations that by 2030 will cut methane and hydrofluorocarbons emissions 40 percent each, and black carbon pollution in half.

He said it’s a faster way to shrink emissions than targeting carbon pollution, which the state also is looking to shrink with multiple programs.

It’s needed, Brown said, because “at the rate we’re going [on climate], we’re not going anywhere, in my opinion. On the present record, we’re not going to make it without real bad consequences. How catastrophic, one can’t know.”

He said that the forest fires in California have “acted in ways that the models did not account for.” They burned very rapidly, he said, “in many directions, without the affected winds, purely because of the dryness and the lack of moisture. So we’re already being affected by climate change.”

Short-lived climate pollutants include black carbon (soot), methane and hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, the chemicals used as refrigerants and in other applications, which are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol because they were putting a hole in the ozone layer, Alex Barnum, deputy secretary for communications and external affairs at the California EPA, said in an email.

“They have a much shorter lifetime than CO2, on the order of days for black carbon to about 12 years for methane,” he said in the message. For a given amount of pollution, he said, they are “tens, hundreds, or even thousands of times worse for global warming than CO2,” though there’s much more CO2 being emitted.

“Short-lived climate pollutants are estimated to be responsible for about 40 percent of current net climate forcing, and because of their short lifetime, reducing emissions now can immediately slow the impacts of global warming,” he said.

Potential targets include dairies, landfills

ARB next week will release a draft strategy to “Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants,” which comes out of S.B. 605, Barnum said. That bill required the state to develop a plan to reduce short-lived climate pollutants.

The reduction goals stipulated that short-lived pollutants “align with scientific assessments of what is needed globally to limit warming below 2 degrees C, and if achieved globally, would deliver tremendous climate, health, and agricultural benefits,” Barnum said.

Brown in New York said that cutting short-lived climate pollutants limits damage to crop production and helps children in cities including Los Angeles who are affected by the pollution.

Brown said that under the regulations ARB will pursue, black carbon would be reduced to 19 million tons from 38 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. Methane would be cut to 71 tons from 118 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent, and HFCs to 24 million metric tons from 40 million metric tons.

“We are saying exact numbers,” Brown said. “We should be evaluated on exactly how we’ll we are achieving them.”

The governor did not provide details on what kind of rules the state would seek to reduce the short-lived climate pollutants. A concept paper ARB put out in May gave some ideas.

It said that black carbon is produced in California “primarily from diesel combustion and burning wood (including wildfires).” The paper suggested building on, accelerating and expanding existing programs on cleaning freight and forest management.

ARB already has been looking at cutting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling and storage sites, the paper said. Other sources include reducing methane emissions from dairies and eliminating disposal of organic materials at landfills.

Brown warns of climate change migrations

Opposition to new rules may occur, Brown said, but that has been the case with many of the state’s climate policies. Utilities in the state fought an earlier requirement that they generate 20 percent of power from renewable sources. They now are at 25 percent without the dire impact they feared, the governor said.

“To make any progress, you have to overcome opposition. You have to overcome conventional wisdom,” Brown said. “You have to have a little bit of disruption and pain in order to get anything done, and there’s lots of opposition.”

Brown’s comments, which came as Pope Francis spoke to Congress, said that California and the country have “a serious moral obligation. We do have a political imperative.”

Sea-level rise, rising temperatures, weather conditions and drought are affecting people, and the poor are hurt more than the wealthy, he said.

“Most people who’ve looked at that have said it’s going to stimulate migrations,” Brown said. He noted the strain now underway in Europe with the migrations from Syria’s civil war.

“We’re going to be faced with that” because of climate impacts, he said.

Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a professor of applied pcean sciences and director of the Center for Atmospheric Sciences in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, also spoke at the United Nations.

He said that it took 120 years to dump a trillion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, “then it took just 40 years to dump the next trillion tons. We are right now putting 40 billion tons each year.”

In the next 21 years, the world will put a third trillion tons, he said, and “that will pretty much commit us to 1.5 degrees” Celsius increase in temperature.

“So we’ve got to do something immediately,” Ramanathan said. “We have to mitigate that.”

Reporter Debra Kahn contributed.