Thursday, 27 June 2013 11:18

Black Carbon

Written by 
Black Carbon IPS

Black carbon is a fine particulate matter that belongs to a group of substances known as short-lived climate forcers (SLCFs).

Black carbon, or soot, is actually the most short-lived SLCF as it remains in the atmosphere only for a matter of days or weeks, whereas methane, the longest lived SLCF has an atmospheric lifetime of around a decade.

Due to its short atmospheric lifetime, reducing emissions of black carbon will be a way of very efficiently mitigating climate change in the near term. In contrast, cutting emissions of a long-lived gas like carbon dioxide will take very long – perhaps too long to avoid irreversible changes, as some fear – to take effect because the carbon dioxide already emitted will remain in the atmosphere for decades.

So even though carbon dioxide emissions are the dominant factor contributing to observed andprojected rates of Arctic climate change, addressing short-lived climateforcers, such as black carbon, offers unique opportunities toslow Arctic warming in the near term and actions on black carbon and other SLFCs should not be seen as competing with actions on carbon dioxide.

Following a week’s life as an aerosol that absorbs solar radiation and heats the atmosphere, black carbon has an afterlife deposited on snow and ice, darkening their surfaces and thus increasing their absorption of radiation. Therefore, there are strong regional differences between the climate effects of black carbon in the Arctic compared to most other parts of the world.

In general there are six sources of black carbon emission in the Arctic. Domestic combustion, land transport, shipping, energy and industrial production and waste treatment, Field burning (burning of agricultural waste) and forest and grass fires.

Exposure to black carbon evidently causes cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

Therefore actions on reducing black carbon actions is considered ”no regrets” i.e., early measures aimed at decreasing emission makes sense not only in terms of environmental benefits but also in terms of human health as well as economically.

In April 2013, the Arctic Athabaskan Council together with the two environmental NGO’s Earthjustice and Ecojustice. Together submitted a petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, seeking “relief from violations of the rights of Arctic Athabaskan Peoples resulting from rapid arctic warming and melting caused by emissions of black carbon by Canada.”

The petition is a result of the Arctic Athabaskan Council having “expressed its concern over Canada’s failure to adequately regulate black carbon emissions in letters and presentations to, and meetings with meetings with, personnel in various Canadian federal agencies, to no avail.”

The petition claims that Canada’s black carbon emissions violate the Arctic Athabaskan Peoples’ right to culture, the right to property, the right to means of subsidence and the right to health. The petition request that the Inter-American Commission:

-Investigate and confirm the harms suffered by Arctic Athabaskans affected by Arctic warming and meling;

        -Prepare a report setting forth all the facts and applicable law, declaring Canada’s failure to implement adequate measures to substantially reduce its black carbon emissions violates rights affirmed in the               American Declaration of Rights and Duties of Man; and

         -Recommend that Canada take steps to limit black carbon emissions and protect Arctic Athabaskan culture and resources from the effects of accelerated Arctic warming and melting.


Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
Fram Centre, Postboks 6606 Langnes, NO-9296 Tromsø, Norway