Cost-effective actions to cut black carbon, methane and ground level ozone spotlighted in new report

Press Release: November 25, 2011

Fast action could cut near term climate change by about half a degree C, reduce air pollution deaths by over two million a year and boost food security. Half of black carbon and methane emission reductions will save money or be low cost.

A package of 16 measures could, if fully implemented across the globe, save close to 2.5 million lives a year; avoid crop losses amounting to 32 million tonnes annually and deliver near-term climate protection of about half a degree C by 2040.

The report estimates that implementing these measures would help keep a global temperature rise below the 2 degrees C target, at least until mid-century.

The measures, outlined in a new report compiled by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) with an international team of experts, target short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs)—black carbon which is a major component of soot, methane and tropospheric ozone.

The report emphasizes that fast action on short-lived climate forcers will not be able to keep global temperature rise to under 2 degrees C by the end of the century, unless governments decisively act on the principle greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2).

The report, funded by the Government of Sweden, estimates that around half of the black carbon and methane emission reductions can be achieved through measures that result in cost savings over the lifetime of the investment.

This is because some of the measures—such as recovering rather than emitting natural gas during oil production—allow the methane to be harvested as a clean source of fuel.

Cutting black carbon emissions by, for example, replacing inefficient cookstoves and traditional brick kilns with more efficient ones, also cuts fuel costs for households and kiln operators.

The report points to other economic, social and environmental benefits that are not included in the overall cost-estimates of this assessment. These include:

  • Upgrading wastewater treatment works will help cut emissions of methane, while improving sanitation and water quality.
  • Recovery of coal mine methane - carried out for occupational safety reasons as well as for the economic value of methane as a clean-burning energy source - will have significant climate and health benefits.

The report has been requested by developed and developing countries and builds on some ten years of scientific research, first, through the UNEP Atmospheric Brown Cloud project, and more recently via assessments by UNEP and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

“This report outlines options and enabling mechanisms at national, regional and global levels, which countries can use to formulate their responses for rapid action on short-lived climate forcers”, said Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, Senior Researcher at the Stockholm Environment Institute in York.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The scientific case for fast action on these so-called ‘Short-Lived Climate Forcers’ has been steadily built over more than a decade—the question governments have been asking over recent months is what are the options and priorities for action and the likely costs and benefits in order to advance a response to rapidly manage these substances.”

“This report provides that analysis and offers pathways and policies that may allow nations, acting nationally, regionally and globally, to achieve some remarkable gains in terms of a transition to a low emission, resource efficient Green Economy over the near term.”

“For some countries the most important benefits result from cost-effective improvements in air pollution and reduced illness and loss of life—black carbon, for example, could be controlled under national and regional air quality agreements. Other countries are also recognizing the food security benefits in terms of reduced crop damage in a world of seven billion people,” said Mr. Steiner.

“For others, it may be the regional and global climate benefits that are uppermost in their minds—whatever the motivation, this report presents the costs and the benefits that can play their part towards a sustainable 21st century as governments head towards Rio+20 in June, next year,” he added.

Notes to Editors

- The report is available online at:

- The report was produced in close cooperation with the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), who coordinated an international team of about 30 authors. The report was also reviewed by about 50 international experts.

- Achim Steiner’s Speech to the Ministerial Meeting on SLCFs in Mexico (12 September 2011), is available at:

- Summary of UNEP’s “Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone” is available online at:

For further information, please contact:

Ylva Rylander, Press and Communications Advisor, Stockholm Environment Institute +46 731 50 33 84

Dr Johan Kuylenstierna, Senior Researcher, Stockholm Environment Institute in York +44 7968 580 557

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Division of Communication and Public Information Acting Director and Spokesman +41 795 965 737 or +254 733 632 755

Stockholm Environment Institute is an independent international research institute. The institute has established a reputation for rigorous and objective scientific analysis in the field of environment and development. SEI aims to bring about change for sustainable development by bridging science and policy.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the voice for the environment in the UN system. Established in 1972, UNEP's mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.