Displaying items by tag: black carbon
Thursday, 27 June 2013 11:18

Black Carbon

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.

Published in Focus
Wednesday, 29 February 2012 15:40

New black carbon initiative

During its 2011-2013 Arctic Council Chairmanship, Sweden plans to raise the profile of Arctic issues in international forums in order to achieve an effective reduction programme concerning global emissions of black carbon, or soot, one of the most potent so-called short-lived climate forcers (SLCF).

Swedish delegates made this clear during the meeting of Arctic Council Task Force on Short Lived Climate Forcers in Vienna, February 2012. Sweden will propose negotiations of global emission reductions during the next meeting of Arctic Council Senior Arctic Officials (SAO) in Stockholm, March 28-29, 2012.

Published in All News
Tuesday, 28 September 2010 14:18

Black carbon vs carbon dioxide?

What is black carbon?
Black carbon is a fine particulate matter that comes from incomplete combustion of fossil fuels like diesel and coal as well as burning of wood and crop waste. It belongs to a group of substances known as short-lived climate forcers (SLFCs).

Black carbon is actually the most short-lived SLFC 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, it is being inferred, 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.

Adherents of black carbon actions carefully stress that such actions should be ”no regrets”. One way of understanding this is that actions on black carbon and other SLFCs should not be seen as competing with actions on carbon dioxide. Action on black carbon should be a near-term complement to long-term CO2 mitigation.

Recent ACAP initiative
At it’s September 2-3 meeting, the Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) developed and agreed upon a terms of reference for a new project steering group (PSG) that would undertake projects on black carbon and other SLCFs.

The PSG will be chaired by the United States and Norway, Sweden and Russia will be vice-chairs of the PSG. The Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), the only Arctic Council Permanent Participant to attend the recent ACAP meeting in Oslo, indicated that it is interested in participating in the PSG.  Canada, Finland, and the Nordic Environment Finance Corporation (NEFCO) likewise expressed interest in participating and others are invited to do so as well.

The PSG would set its first meeting following endorsement by the SAOs to develop project proposals on black carbon and undertake initial scoping activities so as to provide a meaningfull progress report to the next SAO and Ministerial meetings. In addition, the PSG, if approved, will closely coordinate with the Short-Lived Climate Forcers Task Force (SLCF TF) and anticipates that intermediate project deliverables would help provide additional, necessary information to the Task Force.

Arctic Council Task Force initiative
The Arctic Council Task Force on SLCF held its second meeting in Copenhagen on 9 and 10 September. The meeting was being hosted by the European Environment Agency (EEA). EEA had also offered to finance the participation of two Arctic Council Permanent Participant representatives at this meeting. However, this opportunity fell into place only a week before the meeting, that is, too late for PPs to organize participation. IPS attended the meeting as an observer.

The Task Force meeting agenda included updates from experts groups on short-lived climate forcers within the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), the Convention on Long-Range Trans-boundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP), and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA). Furthermore, each participating country delivered updates on national concerns, priorities, and initiatives.

Following the Copenhagen meeting, the SLCF Task Force has completed a draft status report on its own work to be presented to the Senior Arctic Officials in Tórshavn in October. The Task Force is continuing its work with preparing a technical report that will comprise identification of the most important pollution sources, emission inventory estimates, and evaluation of mitigation options.

To most people, black carbon acts as a short-hand for the whole group of SLCF. In the case of the Arctic Council Task Force on SLCF, too, focus is on Black Carbon. However, according to the status report, this should not be taken to imply that black carbon is necessarily more important than methane or other SLFCs in terms of Arctic impacts.

Rather, focusing on black carbon acknowledges that the impacts of this substance are more of a frontier area of research, and that the Task Force therefore needs to conduct new technical analyses in order to inform its recommendations. There is still a lot of scientific uncertainty surrounding the question of the exact Arctic climate benefits resulting from reducing and controlling emissions of black carbon, even if it is commonly assumed that SLCFs may collectively be causing as much Arctic temperature impact as does carbon dioxide.

Thus far, the most important outcome of the Task Force’s work might well be the gathering of the first-ever compilation of nations’ black carbon emission inventory estimates. Also, the identification of residential heating – previously not considered a significant target for mitigation – is a significant new development resulting from the work of the Task Force.

No regrets
According to the draft status report, an essential aspect of black carbon mitigation is that it is “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. Exposure to black carbon evidently causes cardiovascular and respiratory conditions.

From an Arctic perspective, though, the environmental dimension is relatively more important because of the impact of black carbon deposits on snow and ice surfaces. This means that, 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.

This is where indigenous peoples come in, even if – for the obvious reason indicated above - they did not show up at the meeting. According to the draft status report, health co-benefits from reducing emissions are strong in the Arctic as elsewhere. Environmental concerns, though, should be particularly emphasized in the Arctic context and with particular respect to the Permanent Participants in the Arctic Council.

According to the draft operating guidelines of the Task Force, ”Permanent Participant members of the task force should have substantive knowledge of the impacts of accelerated Arctic warming on the region.” It is perhaps worth recalling the discussion of the SLCFs at the SAO meeting in Ilulissat in April this year.

During that discussion, one Permanent Participant, the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), stressed that it wanted to be involved in the process because of the enhanced significance of actions on black carbon in the Arctic. However, AAC could not afford to attend to the inaugural meeting of the Task Force in San Francisco in February.
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Arctic Council Indigenous Peoples' Secretariat
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