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Managing short-lived climate forcers in curbing climate change: an atmospheric chemistry synopsis


The Montreal Protocol has set an extraordinary example by applying scientific discoveries, technological innovations, and swift political actions to solving one of the most urgent environmental problems facing humans. With its ongoing implementation, the stratospheric ozone is expected to return to its 1980 levels around mid-twenty-first century. In addition, the Montreal Protocol has contributed to mitigating climate change by reducing the emissions of certain greenhouse gases. The management of several short-lived climate forcers, including hydrofluorocarbons, tropospheric ozone, black carbon, and methane, is worthy of consideration as a fast-response, near-term measure to curb climate change, while international treaties to reduce the emissions of long-lived climate forcers, such as carbon dioxide, are under discussion. This paper aims to provide a concise overview of the scientific concepts and atmospheric processes behind these policy considerations. The focus is on the fundamental atmospheric chemistry that provides the basis for a co-benefits approach in mitigating both climate change and stratospheric ozone depletion.

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  1. 1.

    Radiative forcing: a measure of how a climate forcing agent influences Earth’s energy balance, with a positive value indicating a net heat gain to the lower atmosphere, which leads to a globally averaged surface temperature increase, and a negative value indicating a net heat loss.

  2. 2.

    Velders GJM, Solomon S and Daniel JS (2014) Growth of climate change commitments from HFC banks and emissions. Atmos. Chem. Phys. 14(9):4563-4572 (“If, for example, HFC production were to be phased out in 2020 instead of 2050, not only could about 91–146 Gt CO2-eq of cumulative emission be avoided from 2020 to 2050, but an additional bank of about 39–64 Gt CO2-eq could also be avoided in 2050.” The total ranges from 130 to 210 Gt CO2-eq.)

  3. 3.

    Amendments had new chemicals added to the lists of controlled substances. Adjustments accelerated the schedule for phase-out. Decisions allow continued use of some ODSs for time-limited periods for applications essential or critical, such as medicine or national security.

  4. 4.

    Methyl bromide (CH3Br) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are potent ozone-depleting GHGs that originate from both natural sources and human activities.

  5. 5.

    The latest estimates of GWP are from the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5). GWP is typically expressed for a 100-year time horizon (GWP100-year), but GHGs with atmospheric lifetime longer than 100 years continue to exert a climate forcing for up to 10,000 years (for example, Perfluorocarbons—PFCs).


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John H. Seinfeld, Deborah S. Gross, and Stephen O. Andersen are acknowledged for their insightful comments. Special thanks go to colleagues who participated in the plenary and the follow-up session on “The Montreal Protocol at the Crossroads” at the 2014 annual conference of the Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS).

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Correspondence to Song Gao.

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Gao, S. Managing short-lived climate forcers in curbing climate change: an atmospheric chemistry synopsis. J Environ Stud Sci 5, 130–137 (2015).

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  • Short-lived climate forcers
  • Hydrofluorocarbons
  • Montreal protocol
  • Stratospheric ozone depletion
  • Greenhouse gases
  • Climate change