At the ministerial meeting today, the Arctic Council had been expected to launch talks on a legal instrument to facilitate coordinated regional action to reduce black carbon emissions. They didn’t. Although the ministers have now received two detailed reports produced by the Council’s own Task Force, outlining no-regrets emissions reduction opportunities that provide great climate and health benefits, they still failed to act Measures to reduce emission taken in or near the Arctic have been identified by scientists as a priority as they are more likely to accelerate melting of Arctic snow and ice.
Ministers including U.S. Secretary Kerry signed a regional agreement on oil spill preparedness and response to help overcome barriers to cooperation if there is a major spill and map especially sensitive ecological areas that will need greater response capacity in the event of a spill. But the Council failed to take action to launch talks on oil spill prevention, even though it is widely accepted that we don’t have the technology or response capacity to clean up a spill in Arctic conditions.
The dramatic changes in the Arctic brought on by rapid regional climate warming and increased resource extraction urgently calls for effective circumpolar environmental standards. The Arctic is warming more than twice as fast as the rest of the planet, pushing species toward extinction, accelerating ice melt and sea level rise, and amplifying climate change worldwide.
“While the agreement on oil spill preparedness is important and we are encouraged by the progress made on that front, there is no denying that the Arctic Council failed to act to slow Arctic warming and melting and prevent oil spills—the two most urgent items on their agenda. The Council must do better,” said Erika Rosenthal, an Earthjustice attorney who participated in the Task Force on Short-lived Climate Forcers. “We must work hard to implement the Task Force recommendations on black carbon and methane reduction in every Arctic state, and ensure that launching black carbon negotiations are at the top of the agenda when the U.S. takes over the Council chairship in 2015.”
Reducing emissions of short-lived climate pollutants, particularly black carbon and methane, has been identified as the primary strategy to slow Arctic warming and melting in the coming decades. Black carbon is a component of fine particle pollution, or soot, that is emitted by diesel engines, agricultural fires and residential heating and industrial boilers. Reducing soot emissions also provides great health benefits.
The same regional warming that will lead to extinctions, sea level rise and massive methane and CO2 release as permafrost melts, has opened up new areas to resource extraction, especially access to the approximately 20 percent of the world’s unrecovered oil and gas that lies beneath the Arctic sea floor.