Scientists and environmental groups concentrating on reducing harmful air pollution and slowing climate change are lauding the release of EPA’s Black Carbon Report to Congress, but say there is more work to be done to implement reductions of this short-lived climate pollutant.
Reducing black carbon emissions is an effective rapid response to slow warming in the near term, slowing melting in the Arctic ice sheets. (Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com)
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the congressionally-mandated report today, which reviews the significant body of science on the climate impacts of black carbon, major emissions sources, and benefits to climate and human health from reduction in those emissions using currently available technologies.
“We applaud EPA’s comprehensive report, the results of which underscore the need to reduce black carbon, a major component of soot, in order to protect public health and the climate,” said Brooke Suter of the Clean Air Task Force. “This information makes clear the need to support measures to reduce black carbon at all levels—from funding of the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act in Congress, to Mayors and University presidents acting on climate agreements, to organizations working on climate action plans.”
In the U.S., more than half (57%) of the black carbon emissions comes from diesels. Black carbon emissions can be dramatically reduced by installing particle traps on diesel vehicles, generators and construction equipment, and by switching to less polluting fuels in ships, locomotives and aircraft among other measures.
The Diesel Emissions Reduction Act (DERA) was reauthorized by Congress at $100 million annually through 2016 to help fleet owners reduce diesel emissions. However, the Obama administration’s proposed FY13 budget only included $15M, which is less than the $30M passed on the FY12 budget.
Unlike CO2 and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming for decades or centuries once in the atmosphere, black carbon is a short-lived climate pollutant, remaining in the atmosphere for days to weeks. Because of this, reducing black carbon emissions is an effective rapid response to slow warming in the near term, slowing melting in the Arctic ice sheets as well as snow pack and permafrost in the American west.
“EPA has done a thorough job of presenting the current level of scientific understanding of black carbon, making this an important reference document that shows just how much consensus there is about both health and climate benefits from reductions, and in particular that black carbon is one of the only climate pollutants where reductions can result in a swift and positive climate response.” said Ellen Baum, senior scientist at the Clean Air Task Force.
“Science tells us that we have a limited window of opportunity to reduce emissions of black carbon and other short-lived pollutants to slow the rate of warming and melting from the Arctic to the Andes to the Sierra, as well as to have any chance at keeping global temperature rise at 2°C or less. This report gives the U.S. a unique opportunity to provide greater leadership to the international community by taking action to reduce emission at home—a win-win for public health and climate,” said Erika Rosenthal, an Earthjustice attorney.
Continued leadership from Senator Tom Carper of Delaware made the EPA report possible as well as strong support from then-Senator Secretary Hillary Clinton, Senator Boxer (CA), Senator James Inhofe (OK), Senator John Kerry (MA) and Representative Jay Inslee (OR).
In addition to the congressionally-mandated two-year study of black carbon emissions by the EPA, the U.S. and other nations recognized the importance of reducing black carbon emissions when the U.S., Bangladesh, Ghana, Mexico, Sweden, Canada and the United Nations Environment Programme announced the Climate and Clean Air Coalition last month. This Coalition is working now on identifying concrete measures that can reduce black carbon worldwide.
Internationally, UNEP, the Convention on Long-Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) and the Arctic Council have concluded that black carbon pollution plays a significant role in a range of climate impacts, particularly for sensitive regions such as the Arctic and high elevation mountain ranges both in and outside of the U.S., including increased temperatures, accelerated ice and snow melt, and disruptions to precipitation patterns.