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New US-led climate initiative is only part of the solution

16 February 2012

The US, Canada, Mexico, Ghana, Sweden and Bangladesh have launched an initiative to cut some of the substances that cause climate change. These substances - black carbon (soot from traditional cooking fires and stoves), methane and ozone - are called "short-lived climate forcers", as they don't stay in the atmosphere very long. We welcome this initiative, but it mustn't distract us from the main task: reducing CO2 emissions.

Our head of climate change, Keith Allott, explains: “Deep and immediate carbon dioxide reductions are required to protect the climate over the long term. This cannot be achieved by addressing short-lived climate forcers alone.

"The science behind this new initiative is sound, but it does not in any way support postponing immediate and aggressive global action on man-made greenhouse gases.

“The fact is, the big emitters like the US and Canada that are advancing this initiative have done very little to reduce emissions. Now they’ve developed an initiative that shifts the focus to others, developing countries in particular.

"Support for action in poorer countries is important, but the primary responsibility of the big emitters should be to reduce their own emissions, and address the global challenges posed by climate change.”

We welcome any initiative that wants to tackle black carbon and energy poverty, but we should not assume that it will deliver quick results.

There are many practical challenges to addressing black carbon from traditional cooking stoves and cooking fires, including the number of point sources, limited awareness, financing and cultural barriers to adopting new cooking methods. Success will depend on good mechanisms for finance, accounting and delivery.

In short, while short-lived forcers provide a window of opportunity, we believe we should focus on the biggest cause of climate change: CO2.

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