Black carbon emissions accelerate Arctic melting

box-climate-station-1024x576.jpg

Deposits of black carbon (soot) and dust on snow and ice accelerate melting

The eight nation Arctic Council has set targets to limit black carbon (or soot) emissions between 25 and 33 percent below 2013 levels by 2025 in a bid to slow Arctic warming. Foreign ministers attending the 10th Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Fairbanks, USA signed the Fairbanks Declaration that noted that the pace and scale of continued Artic warming “will depend on future emissions of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs)” and reiterated the global need to reduce them.

The reduction target had been recommended by the Council’s Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane, which also noted that reducing black carbon also provides local benefits, including for human and ecosystem health and encouraged countries both within and beyond the Arctic to implement its black carbon reduction recommendations.  According to the Expert Group reducing emissions of black carbon in the Arctic is a major and critical step towards protecting this vulnerable region from climate damages. 

Norway's Minister of Climate and Environment, Vidar Helgesen, said there are already dramatic changes happening in the Arctic due to climate change and it will have far-reaching consequences.

"The newly adopted collective goal on black carbon under the Arctic Council is a very important step to limit climate change in the Arctic," Mr. Helgesen said. "The Arctic Council will revisit the goal under future chairmanships with the aim to further reduce the emissions. I hope other regions will follow this example and develop regional goals for black carbon reductions."

Rita Cerutti, Co-chair of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition and a senior official with Canada’s department of Environment and Climate Change, said the Arctic Council's work on short-lived climate pollutants is quite significant.

"This is the first ever collective goal on black carbon. While several Arctic States have already drastically reduced ‎black carbon emissions, as a region all have resolved to collectively further reduce their emissions," Ms. Cerutti said.  "This is important not only for the Arctic, but also as a contribution to meeting the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement."

34469116721_2b40c0fbe2_o.jpg

The Ministers of the eight Arctic Council Member States as well as the Permanent Participant Heads of Delegation. Photo credit: Arctic Council Secretariat / Linnea Nordström

The Arctic is warming at twice the global average rate with serious local and global impacts. The loss of Arctic snow/ice cover and thawing of permafrost accelerate warming on a global basis. The increased climate forcing from the loss of Arctic summer sea-ice between 1979 and 2011, if averaged globally, is equivalent to 25% of the forcing from CO2 over the same period. A growing number of scientists project that summer sea-ice could disappear entirely within the next two decades.

Emerging science suggests that the reduced temperature differential between the Arctic and other areas may also contribute to destabilization of the jet stream in a way that intensifies weather extremes in mid-latitude regions.

Black carbon, like greenhouse gases, warms the atmosphere by absorbing and trapping heat. It also darkens snow and ice, which hastens melting and feeds into the Arctic warming cycle. But because black carbon is only short-lived lived in the atmosphere, reducing black carbon emissions can have quick results. 

Black carbon emissions [should] be further collectively reduced by at least 25-33 percent below 2013 levels by 2025.
Arctic Council Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane

Based on black carbon inventories submitted by Arctic States the Arctic the main sources of black carbon are diesel engines, residential burning of biomass, and oil and gas flaring.

The Expert Group recommends reducing black carbon emissions in the Diesel sector by:

  • Ensuring that new diesel vehicles and engines adopt world class Particulate Matter exhaust emission standards, including the use of particulate filters and alternative fuels.
  • Upgrade or phase out old diesel vehicles and engines through targeted grants, fiscal measures and/or regulations.
  • Ensure the availability of clean fuels through mandatory fuel quality standards for on- and non-road use.
  • Encourage shifts to less-polluting modes of transport and taxing pollution.
  • Spur voluntary adoption of emissions control measures in the shipping industry.

 

The Group called for a commitment to develop implementation plans to achieve zero routine flaring by 2030. The four Arctic States with appreciable oil and gas production – Canada, Norway, Russia, and the United States – have already endorsed the World Bank’s Zero-Routine Flaring by 2030 initiative.

For residential heating and cooking stoves the Expert Group recommends:

  • Incentives to replace old biomass burning appliances with cleaner and more efficient, alternatives.  
  • Promote transformational change by promoting enhanced home heating efficiency to reduce fuel use.
  • Develop and adopt a standardized testing protocol for black carbon emissions to ensure new appliances are cleaner and more efficient. This can support the development of voluntary and regulatory performance and energy efficiency standards.
  • Work with manufacturers to ensure lower emitting and more efficient appliances are widely available and affordable.

 

To slow the pace of warming over the next two to three decades, both globally and in the Arctic, reducing short-lived climate pollutant emissions is an essential complement to global action to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

In fact, global action on carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases together with SLCPs offers the only path to achieve the internationally agreed goal, as set forth in the Paris Agreement, to limit warming to “well below” two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and move towards 1.5 degrees Celsius.

The Arctic Council also signed the Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation. A legally binding agreement to enhance cooperation between the scientific communities of the eight member nations to “increase effectiveness and efficiency in the development of scientific knowledge about the Arctic.

The Arctic Council is made up of eight Arctic Countries: Canada, the Kingdom of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation, Sweden and the United States. In addition, six organizations representing Arctic indigenous peoples have status as Permanent Participants. 

The Arctic Council is the leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic.

You can find more information about the Arctic Council here

You can access the full report Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane; Summary of Progress and Recommendations here

A copy of the Fairbanks Declaration 2017 can be found here

Back to Top