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Global Climate Change Deal Ignores CO2 Emissions, Critics Argue

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A recently announced climate change agreement between the United States and several other countries aims to reduce pollutant emissions, but it is drawing some concerns from a conservation group that claims it doesn't go far enough.

Introduced Thursday by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the multinational partnership -- between the U.S., Bangladesh, Canada, Ghana, Mexico and Sweden -- is designed to reduce emissions from "short-lived climate pollutants." These pollutants, which do not remain in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide, include methane, black carbon (soot) and hydroflurocarbons, explains Politico.

Environmental nonprofit World Wildlife Fund released a response statement Thursday saying they "welcomed a 'black carbon' initiative," but with reservations. The organization argues that the agreement "shifts the focus" to developing countries and continues the U.S. and Canadian trend of doing "very little" to reduce CO2 emissions.

Others contend that controlling CO2 emissions, especially during periods of global economic uncertainty, is a challenge. Durwood Zaelke, founder of the Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development, told NPR in January, "I mean, it's like picking a fight with the biggest bully in the schoolyard. You know, you get your lunch money stolen, you get your pants pulled down, and you get sent home humiliated. We've made about that much progress with CO2."

Clinton acknowledged the importance of controlling CO2 emissions, saying on Thursday, "We know of course that this effort is not the answer to the climate crisis. There is no way to effectively address climate change without reducing carbon dioxide, the most dangerous, prevalent and persistent greenhouse gas."

Samantha Smith, leader of the WWF Climate and Energy Initiative, said in a press release, "While support for poorer countries is important, [the U.S. and Canada's] primary responsibility should be to cut their own emissions and address the global challenges posed by climate change."

A 2007 report from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change noted:

Developing countries are the most vulnerable to climate change impacts because they have fewer resources to adapt: socially, technologically and financially. Climate change is anticipated to have far reaching effects on the sustainable development of developing countries ...

WWF's Smith also said, "Cutting black carbon emissions by ensuring adequate access to energy and cleaner cookstoves is in principle good, but we should not assume that this new initiative will deliver quick results."

The U.S. State Department has more confidence in the new initiative. Todd D. Stern, State's special envoy for climate change, said, "This is very much in the win-win category -- good on climate at the same time that it's good on health, food production and energy," reported The New York Times.

The potential effects of the program over the next several decades are not insignificant. Citing research published recently in Science, the State Department claims that reducing short-lived pollutants has "the potential to reduce the warming expected by 2050 by as much as 0.5 Celsius degrees."

They claim the "low cost" measures will also prevent millions of premature deaths by 2030 and avoid "the annual loss of more than 30 million tons of crops."

Politico explains that the economic benefits of reducing short-term pollutants are also significant. In fact, "Reducing a metric ton of methane costs around $250, while the benefit is worth $700-$5,000."

Half of carbon dioxide emissions remain in the atmosphere for about a century, according to Politico, and 20 percent remains for thousands of years. Methane, on the other hand, lasts for around 12 years, "but it has around 25 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide."

Time Ecocentric notes that reducing methane in the atmosphere will be more difficult, as "there’s little immediate public health benefit to capturing it and reducing emissions," and a major source of it is leaky natural gas wells.

Ellen Baum, a scientist with the Clean Air Task Force, told Nature, "Between what is enough and what we can actually do, this is a nice bite of the cookie.”

The new climate change partnership will begin with contributions of $12 million from the U.S. and $3 million from Canada over two years, according to The New York Times.

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