Robert Myles

On May 9, Rep. Scott Peters, a Democrat representing California’s 52nd Congressional District, introduced a new bill, the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act (SUPER Act), aimed at countering some of the major drivers of global climate change. The new bill tackles the problem of super pollutants, sometimes known as short lived climate pollutants, which, Peters claims, are only partially addressed at present by a number of diverse government programs. The SUPER Act would bring together these disparate efforts focusing on making the most of each taxpayer dollar.

The thinking behind the new SUPER Act is that while many proposals to address climate change involve long-term research or infrastructure investments, these would take years to come to fruition before even starting to have an impact. The SUPER Act approaches matters from a different angle, using existing technologies to reduce super pollutant emissions. These, say the bill’s proposers, could greatly reduce the impact on the environment given the appropriate governing framework.

“Given the major impact of these super pollutants on our environment it only makes sense to use already existing technologies to reduce our emissions and slow climate change. Government at multiple levels is already beginning to address these super pollutants, but it is time to coordinate our efforts to maximize the effectiveness of the programs,” congressman Peters said last week.

“In San Diego we already have experience using methane capture technologies at Miramar landfill to generate electricity and partially meet the demands of Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. This type of technology can be used and expanded to reduce emissions and provide communities with electricity.”

The SUPER Act would reduce overlap and fragmentation in the approach to super pollutant reduction. It would create a task force responsible for reviewing existing policies and developing best practices. The task force would find gaps and duplication among existing efforts by multiple levels of government, bringing the different strands together to achieve super pollutant reductions.

Super pollutants take many forms, the main ones being:

· Black Carbon: Or BC, as it is sometimes known, is basically soot. Technically, it’s a climate forcing agent generated by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel and biomass. It occurs through anthropogenic (man-made) processes and natural phenomena like forest fires. Black carbon contributes to global warming as it has extremely low reflective properties and so absorbs heat from sunlight, rather than reflecting the sun’s rays back into space. Black carbon is a particular problem in polar and glacial regions having the potential to alter significantly the albedo (reflection) of ice or snow covered areas. Compared to carbon dioxide (CO2) which stays in the Earth’s atmosphere for up to 100 days, black carbon is short term, hanging around for periods of a few days to a few weeks.

· Methane: Methane (CH4) is the main component of natural gas. When it exists as a gas in the atmosphere it is a problematic as a greenhouse gas, many times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat from the sun in the Earth’s atmosphere. Intensive farming is a major contributor to atmospheric methane since the gas occurs as a byproduct of animals’ digestive processes. Since 1750 — when farming was much more low-intensive and before the industrial revolution — concentrations of methane in the atmosphere have almost tripled. A big worry for climate scientists concerns permafrost thaw. Vast amounts of methane are locked up in the shape of frozen organic matter in permafrost — permanently frozen ground in Earth’s sub-polar regions like Siberia. As the Earth warms up, permafrost thaw has the potential to contribute toward a runaway greenhouse effect by releasing huge volumes of methane, previously locked up in frozen soils for thousands of years.

· Hydrofluorocarbons: Also known as HFCs, are produced by organochemical industrial processes. They are common in the agrochemical and pharmaceutical industries and have a wide range of uses: in air conditioning, refrigeration, and insulating foams as well as propellants in aerosols. Their related chemicals, CFCs (chlorofuorocarbons) were finally banned as aerosol propellants in 2008 as CFC use was causing depletion of the Earth’s ozone layer. The ozone layer protects living organisms from the effects of harmful radiation from space. HFCs were used as substitutes for CFCs but HFCs have the downside of being a powerful greenhouse gas.

The new bill designates the above as “super pollutants” because they are hundreds to thousands of times more potent in their warming effects than carbon dioxide. Environmental body, the Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD), one of many environmental organizations supporting the measure, estimates that, collectively, these super climate pollutants have contributed up to 45 percent of observed global warming to date. IGSD says that by reducing super pollutants worldwide, the rate of global warming could be cut in half over the next 40 years, in the process avoiding a 0.6°C rise in cumulative warming by 2050 and 1.1°C or more warming by 2100. As Durwood Zaelke, president of the IGSD put it, “Reducing the super pollutants is absolutely essential for staying below the 2°C guardrail. In addition to cutting the rate of global warming in half, fast action to reduce these pollutants can cut the rate of warming in the Arctic by two-thirds, and the rate of warming over the elevated regions of the Himalayas and Tibet by at least half.”

A no-brainer across party lines

Mr. Zaelke was also keen to elicit cross-party support for the SUPER Act, saying, “The combined benefits for improving public health and food security, as well as reducing near-term warming, should make reducing super pollutants a no brainer that is welcomed across party lines. The task force can show the world how to cut climate change in half, save millions of lives every year, and improve crop yields. Congressman Peters should be congratulated for promoting this critical climate strategy."

The United States has sometimes been seen as the world’s 'Johnny Come Lately' when it comes to addressing climate change but Mr. Zaelke urged the US to, once more, become a world leader, adding, “The US has shown leadership on short-lived climate pollutants at the international level by co-founding the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-Lived Climate Pollutants. But the US is still among the largest emitters of HFCs in the world and per capita emitters of black carbon. Taking decisive domestic actions will deliver concrete benefits here at home, and help restore US leadership on climate protection worldwide.”

Co-sponsor of the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Bill, the SUPER Act, along with Peters is fellow California congressman, Democrat Jared Huffman, the US Representative for California's 2nd Congressional District.


Scott Peters (Politician)

Institute for Governance & Sustainable Development (IGSD)


The Big Thaw: Permafrost thaw to cause significant Global Warming