Setting Science-Based Targets for Short-Lived Climate Pollutants

Editor’s note: This is the third post in a three-part series on science-based corporate climate targets. In case you missed it, you can read the first part here and the second part here

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By Tobias Schultz

As I discussed in my two previous blog postings, the need clearly exists for science-based corporate emissions-reduction targets. These measurable and verifiable efforts can help to place the world on a path toward achieving the ambitious carbon-reduction goals set by the Paris climate agreement in 2015.

The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) identified the reduction of short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) as a key factor in developing science-based mitigation policies consistent with the goal to limit global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius. SLCPs, which include black carbon, ozone, methane and hydrofluorocarbons, have relatively short lifetimes in the atmosphere. This means that reducing these emissions can provide the immediate benefit of slowing global warming. For this reason, UNEP determined that SLCP abatement, in concert with carbon mitigation, will be necessary to achieve the 2-degree goal.

Black carbon and ozone also directly affect our health and well-being – which means these reductions can have a dramatic and positive impact on human health.

What are some major sources of SLCPs? Agricultural sectors including rice growing and cattle husbandry produce a significant amount of methane emissions, as does oil and gas extraction. Most black carbon emissions today originate in developing countries, primarily from residential uses such as coal- and wood-burning cook stoves, as well as transport fuels and miscellaneous industry activities.

What does this mean for your company? First, it’s important to understand how and what your organization may contribute to SLCPs. Clearly if you are an agricultural company, methane will be a major issue; conversely, if you are a global manufacturer with supply chain operations in places like India and China, black carbon emissions will be a principal component of your carbon footprint.

Yet among these challenges are opportunities for innovative thinking. For example, if your company purchases agricultural products (i.e., rice or dairy) with their significant embedded methane, this presents the opportunity to explore creative new approaches to reducing this SLCP while also lowering business expenses. Consider the approach recently adopted by several California dairy farmers who are building biogas digesters. This technology will convert the dairies’ biogas methane emissions into renewable, green energy — enough to power about 4,800 households.

If you have extensive transportation or operations in China, you can lower your black carbon emissions for pennies on the dollar, as the technologies to reduce this emission are cheap and readily available there. This will also help put you in the good graces of local governments.

For these reasons and more, I advise any company committed to reducing its corporate carbon footprint to augment science-based GHG emissions reductions with SLCP abatement targets. This provides the most credible type of goal, and will place your company in a leadership position among a small group of businesses that have taken measurable steps to reduce their SLCP emissions. Additionally, you can receive official recognition for your efforts from both the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and the We Mean Business coalition.

Image credit: Pexels

Tobias Schultz is Manager of Corporate Sustainability Services for SCS Global Services, where he designs and implements corporate sustainability programs for clients, including the development of quantitative life cycle assessments (LCAs) and the analysis of the environmental performance of global supply chains. SCS is a worldwide leader in independent, third-party environmental certification.

Schultz can be reached at tschultz@scsglobalservices.com.

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