As the environmental ministers of the Arctic nations, including the United States, meet in Sweden next week, they have an opportunity to show leadership on an important though less well-known climate pollutant, black carbon (soot).
While carbon dioxide remains the most important, long-lasting pollutant forcing climate change, recent studies have revealed that short-lived climate forcers like black carbon are equally damaging, especially in the Arctic.
Black carbon is a product of dirty, incomplete combustion. The largest sources are the burning of fossil fuels, agricultural fires, and residential heating and cooking with wood and coal. This pollution darkens the bright, reflective surfaces of ice and snow, accelerating warming and melting. Black carbon emissions from within and near the Arctic are even more potent climate forcers, and reducing those emissions will slow climate change now.
And that is why the meeting in Sweden is worth watching. Because the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet, with grave consequences for local biodiversity and cultures, and for low-lying communities around the world at risk from climate change. Arctic nations have a unique responsibility to show global leadership in reducing black carbon to slow regional warming and melting by taking action to reduce black carbon. Arctic nations, through their environment ministers, should send a strong signal that black carbon reductions are a priority for regional environmental protection.
Earthjustice attorney Erika Rosenthal and Martin Williams, chair of the Executive Body of the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution, have dug into this issue in some depth with a new article. (The article reflects Martin Willams’s personal views only, not any policy of the CLRTAP.)
They point to recent scientific findings that black carbon has recently been identified as having twice the climate impact than was previously understood and now ranks as second most important climate pollutant.
We have cleaner fuels and the know-how to reduce black carbon emissions right now, and we shouldn’t delay.
Update: Erika Rosenthal and Martin Williams’s article was published in the February 5, 2013 edition of EcoWatch.