This autumn was a significant time for climate action and raising awareness about climate change, featuring the massive People's Climate March and the United Nations' Climate Summit. Despite these events, Congress hasn't acted. But there is an opportunity for Congress to lead, that won't require the elusive consensus on comprehensive climate legislation. Congress can begin tackling greenhouse gas emissions right now, by going after super pollutants.
While carbon dioxide (CO2) is a significant driver of global climate change, almost half of human-made global warming is a result of super pollutants that are many times more potent than CO2. Super pollutants, which include methane, black carbon, and refrigerants like hydroflurocarbons (HFCs), have a 'global warming potential' that is 100-3000 times that of carbon dioxide.
We already have many of the technologies needed to fight super pollutants. Given how harmful these super pollutants are on our environment, it only makes sense to use these existing technologies to reduce our emissions and slow climate change before it is too late.
Action is already being taken by the Obama administration to combat super pollutants: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is actively engaged in cleaning up aerosols and U.S. private sector companies announced commitments to significantly reduce their HFC emissions to an amount equal to 1.5 percent of the world's 2010 greenhouse gas by 2025.
If we can get rid of these nasty pollutants, we remove the annual emissions equivalent of between 6.5 million and nearly 9 million cars from America's roadways. Phasing down HFCs could avoid from 0.35°C to 0.5°C of warming by 2100. Removing super pollutants would also prevent 2 million premature deaths, prevent 30 million tons of crop loss, and cut the rate of sea level rise by 25 percent, according to the United Nations Environmental Programme.
Congressional action to reduce super pollutants doesn't require stripping cars and stores of their air conditioning units. It will mean that safer, more energy-efficient alternatives that are currently available will be standardized and mainstreamed. Europe is already moving away from hydrofluorocarbons, with a goal of reducing HFCs by 79 percent by 2030, making the market ripe for a U.S. transition.
In San Diego, decisive action is already happening. The city has committed to significantly reducing greenhouse gases. San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer's recently announced Climate Action Plan draft lays out a path for the City of San Diego to cut greenhouse gases in half by 2035 and significantly expand the region's already burgeoning green economy.
Given how pervasive super-pollutants are in American industry and individual livelihoods, the effort to reduce them will require an all-hands-on-deck approach, including public and private coordination like we are seeing in San Diego.
That need for a collaborative approach was why the Super Pollutant Emissions Reduction Act (SUPER Act) was introduced last year. The SUPER Act would reduce overlap and fragmentation in the response to super pollutants by creating a task force to review existing policies and develop best practices. This legislation is also an important step to maximize limited government resources and put the United States on firmer ground for international climate negotiations like the ones that just took place in New York and those coming in Paris next year.
Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) recently introduced similar bipartisan legislation, the Super Pollutants Act of 2014, which will put in place the necessary framework for fostering interagency cooperation, prioritizing commonsense emissions reduction strategies, recycling high-global warming potential refrigerants, mitigating methane leaks, and expanding access to diesel-scrubbing technologies.
All of this makes sense from an economic, environmental, and public-health perspective. Taking action to reduce our greenhouse gases is now a mainstream agenda, supported even by financial titans including Hank Paulson and Mike Bloomberg who are constantly thinking about risks to business and our economy.
Super pollutants are a key piece of this risk assessment and require our quick, decisive efforts to minimize their harm to our health and the environment. In Congress, there is an opportunity to come together in a bipartisan way that will make our industries cleaner and greener. We must seize this opportunity to have the United States lead the world.
Peters has represented California's 52nd Congressional District since 2013. He sits on the Armed Services and the Science, Space and Technology committees. Shank, Ph.D., is adjunct faculty at George Mason University's School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. This piece first ran in The Hill.