Climate & Clean Air

Climate patterns play a fundamental role in shaping natural ecosystems, and the human economies and cultures that depend on them. But our climate is rapidly changing with disruptive impacts, and that change is progressing faster than any seen in the last 2,000 years. Scientific evidence shows that rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have warmed the earth and are causing wide-ranging impacts, including rising sea levels, melting snow and ice, more extreme heat events, fires and drought, and more extreme storms, rainfall and floods. Scientists project that these trends will continue and in some cases accelerate, posing significant risks to human health, our forests, agriculture, freshwater supplies, coastlines, and other natural resources that are vital to the world’s economy, environment, and our quality of life. Societies and nations around the globe therefore need to reduce human-caused greenhouse gas emissions to avoid worsening climate impacts and reduce the risk of creating changes beyond our ability to respond and adapt.

Air pollution and climate change are closely related. The main sources of CO2 emissions – the extraction and burning of fossil fuels – are not only key drivers of climate change, but also major sources of air pollutants. Furthermore, many air pollutants that are harmful to human health and ecosystems also contribute to climate change by affecting the amount of incoming sunlight that is reflected or absorbed by the atmosphere, with some pollutants warming and others cooling the Earth. These so-called short-lived climate-forcing pollutants (SLCPs) include methane, black carbon, ground-level ozone, and sulfate aerosols. They have significant impacts on the climate; black carbon and methane in particular are among the top contributors to global warming after CO2.

Air pollution is currently the leading environmental cause of premature death. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 7 million premature deaths annually are due to the effects of air pollution. Moreover, SLCPs adversely affect ecosystems, including agriculture. Beyond these impacts on health and agriculture, SLCPs are responsible for roughly half of current global warming. Although all plans to minimize climate change depend critically on swift action to reduce CO2 emissions, internationally agreed climate targets may not be achievable without additional activities to mitigate SLCPs.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and its Kyoto Protocol has for many years governed the global climate change agenda with mixed outcomes. In order to increase ambition, the global community in December 2015 agreed to the Paris Agreement with the goal of holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change, and to achieve no net emissions in the second half of the century.

The Paris Agreement sets a path for combatting climate change, relying on individual national pledges from all countries, rich and poor, updated every five years, and supported by public and private funds. The Agreement adopts a hybrid approach that blends bottom-up flexibility aimed at achieving broad participation by the community of nations with top-down rules that promote accountability and ambition.

ECI’s Climate & Clean Air Program aims at supporting climate change and clean air interventions by:

  1. Raising awareness of climate change and its impacts on the environment, peoples and livelihoods.
  2. Promoting the adoption and implementation of policies, legislation and practices that improve air quality, reduce energy use and limit greenhouse gas emissions, including short-lived climate pollutants (SCLPs).