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Which Climate Pollutants are Responsible for 45% of Global Warming? How Asian Philanthropists can address them

30 June 2021

By

Ada Lam

Which Climate Pollutants are Responsible for 45% of Global Warming? How Asian Philanthropists can Address Them

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Short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) are a group of lesser-known emissions with immense warming potentials that are 27 to 1,300 times more damaging than CO2. They include:

  • Black Carbon – soot from biomass burning, diesel engines, kilns for brick making, etc
  • Ground-Level Ozone – a major component of smog, produced by other emissions such as methane, pollutants from vehicles and power plants
  • Methane – from cattle belching, manure, rice production, gas leaks from fossil fuel industry, landfills, etc
  • Hydrofluorocarbons – man-made chemicals used in air conditioners and refrigeration

With such an outsized warming effect, these super pollutants are responsible for 45% of man-made GHG emissions to date.

Given the potency of SLCPs, an aggressive reduction of such super pollutants is one of the most effective strategies for combating the climate crisis now. Unlike CO2 which lingers in the atmosphere for 300 to 1,000 years, SLCPs disappear after a few weeks to 15 years.  This means that reductions in super pollutants emissions will lead to relatively rapid drops in their atmospheric concentrations and faster limits to warming.  Reducing SLCPs has the potential to avoid 0.6°C global average warming by 2050, compared with only 0.1°C avoided by reducing CO2.

Super pollutant mitigation also throws us a lifeline. It provides limited time for decarbonisation infrastructures to be put in place, and provides us a slight margin before we reach dangerous climate tipping points.  To illustrate, arctic warming could trigger one of these tipping points because as more ice melts, the region becomes warmer, which will lead to further ice loss, resulting in a vicious cycle.  The Arctic is already melting at an unprecedented rate with some parts reaching a record-high of 38°C in June 2020.  If we allow this to continue, climate change could become irreversible.  Curbing SLCPs can reduce the rate of Arctic warming by two-thirds.  If we want to avoid falling short of the 2°C target set by the Paris Agreement – our climate action and philanthropy today must address super pollutant mitigation.

Why are super pollutants particularly important in Asia?

Developing nations in Asia are some of those most vulnerable countries to near-term climate impacts.  Unless we act now, the region will be increasingly exposed to uninhabitably high temperatures as well as more destructive and extreme weather patterns. This, in turn, will have devastating economic impacts, especially for impoverished populations, and reverse decades of hard-won gains that have improved people’s lives. To effectively protect these development gains in Asia, we must mitigate super pollutant emissions.

As a funder of climate initiatives in Asia, we understand that with the right approach, reducing emissions can deliver other sustainable development goals such as poverty alleviation and health. The initiative that BRACE funds in Vietnam encapsulates this combination of climate action, development, and economic growth that is essential for the future of South-East Asia. Vietnam is the 2nd largest exporter of rice in world, and emits vast amounts of the super pollutants, methane and nitrous oxide. In fact, rice cultivation practices account for 15% of the nation’s total emissions.  With growing population and export demands, rice farming is now facing the interrelated challenges of food security, climate change, and environmental degradation.

Climate Smart Rice in Vietnam

BRACE has funded a 3-year Climate Smart Rice programme that seeks to foster a new generation of rice farming systems. These systems aim to be both climate-friendly and economically sound to farmers. With the dissemination and adoption of climate smart rice growing practices, we have profound potential to abate agricultural emissions. Climate-smart rice agriculture uses easy and low-tech solutions to address three super pollutants:

  • Methane – 21 times more damaging than CO2: the practice of flooding irrigated rice fields is commonplace but also produces methane. The initiative promotes intermittent flooding techniques to vastly reduce methane emissions.  By not submerging the rice plant continuously in water, this practice also produces more robust roots and result in higher yield.
  • Nitrous Oxide – technically, not a SLCP because it stays in the atmosphere for 120 years, but a super pollutant nonetheless, 310 times more damaging than CO2: Its emissions result from the application of inorganic and organic nitrogen fertiliser. Vietnamese rice farmers use 297 kilograms of fertiliser per hectare, 90% more than in other rice growers in Southeast Asia.  The project provides farmers with a simple tool that farmers can use to check if their rice crop already has sufficient nitrogen, thus avoiding the overuse of nitrogen fertilisers and related emissions.
  • Black Carbon – soot that traps heat, 460-1,500 times more damaging than CO2: In Vietnam, open-burning of straw after a rice harvest is widespread. We disseminate techniques to grow a secondary crop after harvest that stops burning. By leaving the rice straw and stubble on the land as a soil cover to preserve the soil and allowing the crop residue to become a source of nutrients for the new crop as it decomposes.   The secondary crop increases the yield of the land and household incomes, putting an end to burning behaviour.

In addition, climate-smart rice delivers economic and health benefits directly to farming communities.

  • Studies have shown climate smart rice to increase crop yield and incomes by 100%.
  • It also prevents community health risk (asthma, low birth weights, cancers, respiratory and coronary diseases) and death from exposure to black carbon.

To amplify the impact of our funding, we also embed behavioural science best practices and work with experts to advise on our grantee’s programmes. This is important because studies have shown time and again that economic or even health benefits alone cannot always create change.  To effectively motivate farmers, there is a need to understand and leverage the workings of the human mind. This means research into and addressing their beliefs, barriers to change, and other psychological drivers of sustainable behaviours. With rice growing on 85% of cultivated land in Vietnam, the climate and socio-economic impact will be considerable, if we can sustain long-term behavioural change across the nation.

The solutions and opportunities to mitigate SLCPS already exist. From supporting climate smart animal husbandry and farming practices, to delivering clean air initiatives and waste management, there are vast opportunities to support health, social and economic development in Asia. It is important for funders to recognise that they can already take immediate action to address super pollutant emission mitigation. As climate action intersects with so many facets of a region’s development, climate additionality can be built into programmes organically. You don’t have to look far to find proven and existing ways to support the immediate reduction of super-pollutants today:

Name of deal (and link) Solution Countries Active
Makmur Biogas-to-Energy Projects Gree’s mission is to strive to fight climate change by scaling biogas solutions that turn agro-food industry waste into valuable resources for people and planet. Food processors generate a tremendous volume of industrial wastewater as an inevitable by-product, which in the absence of adequate treatment, result in massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Gree designs and provides biogas-to-energy solutions that treat the industrial wastewater, captures greenhouse gases emissions, turning these environmental liabilities into clean energy. By developing, building, supervising and operating biogas solutions – Gree is able to address 9 sustainable development goals. Indonesia
SkyCool Panels SkyCool Systems developed a passive rooftop cooling panel, enabled by a patented optical film that cools when outside exposed to the sky. Over their lifetime, our panels save millions of dollars worth of electricity and water when integrated with air conditioning and refrigeration systems. India, Indonesia
Wind Turbine for the Poor 1516 Green Design specializes in designing and building innovatively green and eco-friendly constructions with small investment. The company focuses on developing wind energy, solar energy systems and infrastructures for low-income and average-income customers in areas without or having insufficient electricity to serve the customers’ basic needs. We have deployed 500 wind turbines for the poor in 12 provinces in Vietnam. We provided electricity for 250 poorest households, 60 schools in remote and mountainous areas. Our target is to bring renewable energy to one million poor households who cannot access the national electricity grid across Vietnam in the next few years. Since its foundation in 2015, 1516 has been awarded many international prestige prizes in the field of green design. A typical product is micro-power wind turbine system combined with solar energy panel provided for poor and low-income customers. Vietnam
Bring Solar Light to BoP Worldwide Established in 2009, Shenzhen Power-Solution has been dedicated to developing and manufacturing world-class, affordable solar lighting products and solar home systems to 4.2 million BoP households across 63 countries, with the largest customer base in East Africa. Since 2017, the company has been inventing a series new products to not only give BoP people access to energy but also empower them with “education plus energy for productive use”, with the aim to satisfy the upgraded energy consumption needs of BoP (bottom of the pyramid) people and meanwhile help them increase income through the enhanced productive use; such innovative products include PAYG solar media systems, thermal-to-electricity clean cooking stove, solar-powered agriculture equipment, etc. Afghanistan

India

Indonesia

Papua New Guinea

Philippines

Explore how you can support these solutions and more today.

References

A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training

Author

Ada Lam

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