U.S., Russia thwarting black carbon reduction efforts in Arctic, says Finland

Gas flares, a producer of black carbon, go off at a an unnamed liquefied natural gas plant on Sakhalin island in Russia’s Far East. Finland, current chair of the Arctic Council, says Russia and the United States are hindering circumpolar cooperation efforts to reduce the harmful pollution. (Natalia Kolesnikova/AFP/Getty Images)
Black carbon pollution remains a pressing concern in the Arctic, but the U.S. and Russia are thwarting regional co-operation efforts to combat the problem, says Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Arctic Council, an international forum made up of the world’s eight circumpolar countries, which includes Finland; and six Arctic Indigenous groups, has made fighting black carbon a regional priority because of its role in warming the atmosphere.

When black carbon is deposited on ice and snow, it absorbs heat, instead of reflecting heat from these surfaces, contributing to global warming. Approximately one third of Arctic warming is caused by black carbon emissions from circumpolar countries. 

The Arctic Council has made black carbon a priority since 2015 when it adopted the “Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions Reductions: An Arctic Council Framework for Action.”

The forum also established an expert group on black carbon and methane  to help implement the framework’s commitments to reduce black carbon and recommend collective goals for black carbon reduction.

Arctic Council - Quick Facts

Year formed: 1996

Arctic Council Members: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, United States

Permanent Participants: Aleut International Association, Arctic Athabaskan Council, Gwich’in Council International, Inuit Circumpolar Council, Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Saami Council

Current Chair:  Finland (2017-2019)

Finland is currently nearing the the end of its leadership of the Arctic Council. The chairmanship rotates through member countries every two years.

Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that while the majority of Arctic countries have managed to reduce their emissions, not everyone has been on board.

The Arctic Council’s efforts to curb black carbon emissions have encountered difficulties,” said the news release this week.

“The United States has withdrawn from common reduction goals, and Russia has not submitted its national calculations on black carbon emissions.”

Upcoming ministerial

Black carbon is made up of fine matter produced by incomplete combustion of carbon-based fuels. It can be emitted by everything from diesel engines to forest fires.

Because black carbon particles are so small, they can be inhaled and have also been linked to respiratory and circulatory problems in humans.

After carbon dioxide, black carbon is the second biggest contributor to warming.

The Arctic Council’s black carbon working group will submit their next progress summary, along with recommendations for further reducing emissions, at the Arctic Council ministerial in Rovaniemi, Finland.

The ministerial is also where Finland will hand over chairmanship of the Arctic Council to Iceland.

The meeting runs May 6-7.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada:  Arctic Council experts tackle black carbon risk posed by wildfires, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finnish president demands Arctic Summit to stop dangerous black carbon emissions, Yle News

Iceland: Environmental groups call on Arctic cruise industry to reduce pollution in Iceland, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: WWF urges Norway to protect its Arctic forests to help fight climate change, The Independent Barents observer

RussiaMonchegorsk, Russia: a mining town with green aspirations, Cryopolitics Blog

SwedenAfter the IPCC’s devastating report, what can Sweden do to fight climate change?, Radio Sweden

United States: Federal judge says U.S. gov must reassess climate impacts of oil leases, Alaska Public Media

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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