Protecting the Arctic

Written evidence submitted by Client Earth and Environmental Protection UK

1. This is a joint submission by ClientEarth and Environmental Protection UK (EPUK) on behalf of the Black Carbon Campaign. The Black Carbon Campaign was launched by Environment Protection UK (EPUK) in 2011 and is now a joint campaign by  ClientEarth and EPUK to draw attention to the need to reduce black carbon emissions to help achieve rapid climate change mitigation and slow the rate of Arctic melting. ClientEarth is an environmental law and policy organisation working in the public interest.

2. Black carbon pollution presents a major threat to the Arctic and we welcome this opportunity to make a submission to the Environmental Audit Committee’s Arctic Protection Enquiry. In this submission, we draw together recent climate science which demonstrates the impact of black carbon pollution on the Arctic, and we suggest a number of actions that the government could take to cut black carbon emissions as an Arctic protection strategy.

3. In summary:

· Black carbon is a component of soot which arises from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and organic matter. Black carbon particles are known to travel long distances to the Arctic. More than half the black carbon that reaches the Arctic originates in the EU.

· Black carbon deposition on ice and snow significantly accelerates Arctic warming and disintegration by reducing reflectivity (albedo), and by absorbing thermal energy while airborne.

· Recent studies conclude that reducing black carbon and other short-lived climate forcers could reduce regional warming in the Arctic by approximately two-thirds over the next 30 years. The Arctic Council of Nations is considering accelerated black carbon reductions as part of an Arctic protection strategy. .

· Because of its long atmospheric lifespan, stabilisation of CO2 levels alone will not be sufficient to prevent significant further melting of the Arctic, and is very unlikely to limit global warming to two degrees. By contrast, because black carbon has a very short atmospheric lifespan, reducing emissions of black carbon has the potential to deliver rapid climate change mitigation. It therefore has a vital role to play in preventing "tipping points" being passed and preventing runaway global climate change.

· The melting of the Arctic is opening up new commercial opportunities in shipping, extractives and other industrial activities. The increase in such industrial activities poses significant risks of increased black carbon deposition on Arctic snow and ice.

· Black carbon is not currently included in UK or EU climate legislation or policy, despite its significant role in causing global warming. The issue is beginning to attract the attention of the European Parliament and the European Commission.

· Current EU air quality legislation only partially and indirectly regulates black carbon through controls on particulate matter. If the potential for rapid climate change mitigation is to be realised, black carbon must be considered as a climate issue as well as a health and air quality problem.

· The UK can reduce its Arctic footprint in ways that will maximise benefit for the Arctic and the global climate, while also yielding significant benefits for human health.

· The UK can play an important role in leading EU and regional action on black carbon.

Recommendations for p rotecting the Arctic by reducing emissions of black carbon

General approach

4. Black carbon is a climate and a health problem. If policy makers continue to consider black carbon only as a health and air quality problem, we will fail to optimise the climate and Arctic benefits from black carbon reductions.

5. First, from an air quality perspective, it is concentrations of pollutants in ambient air (set at levels relevant to human health), rather than overall quantities that must be controlled. For this reason, air quality measures are unlikely to deliver reductions in a number of non-urban sources of black carbon that are important from a climate and Arctic protection perspective. These include off-road rural sources such as heavy machinery and tractors, particularly the existing fleet which is poorly regulated and enforced. Older diesel cars operating in rural areas also remain unaffected by air quality legislation. Another source that is inadequately affected by existing air quality legislation is shipping, in particular, international ships passing through polar regions.

6. Second, although black carbon is a warming particle, it always emerges alongside other particles that may have cooling properties. This means that some sources, such as on- and off-road diesel engines, which contain very high ratios of warming to cooling emissions, must be priority targets. [1] A mitigation measure may be quite effective on the overall umbrella of particulate matter, but be poor at controlling the black carbon fraction of the particulate matter. Examples include electro static filters for industrial applications, or certain types of diesel particulate filters.

7. Finally, considering black carbon as both a climate and air quality issue has the potential to open up climate financing to black carbon mitigation actions (e.g. recycling of Emission Trading Scheme auctioning revenues).


8. As there is now a broad consensus among climate scientists that black carbon is a powerful climate forcer which exerts particularly damaging effects on the Arctic, we recommend that:

· DECC should request advice from the Committee on Climate Change on how the UK should best accelerate national black carbon reductions in ways that benefit the Arctic

· The government should develop an integrated, cross-departmental national air quality and climate strategy. This should aim to optimise "win-win" outcomes for climate and air quality.

· DECC should prepare a black carbon strategy and action plan and integrate black carbon into its climate policies and roadmaps.

· The government should ensure full compliance with the Ambient Air Quality Directive in the UK as soon as possible and support ambitious, legally binding EU limits on concentrations of particulate matter which will optimise reductions in black carbon emissions. It should not call for or support any weakening of existing air quality limits or the inclusion of derogations in the revised directive.

· The government should consider ways to open up a portion of climate financing to reduce black carbon including use of ETS auctioning revenues for targeted black carbon mitigation measures such as older diesel vehicles and rural diesel engines. The Green Investment Bank could also assist in unlocking financing for black carbon as cost effective climate measures with near-term results and significant co-benefits for human health.

· Pricing measures such as fuel taxation should be investigated for their potential to drive black carbon reductions.

· The RHI should be amended to include a more stringent emission limit which would require filters to be fitted to biomass boilers.

· The government should support ambitious EU legislation which aims to tackle sources of black carbon emissions.

· The government should support the development of regional legal instruments to limit the amount of black carbon reaching the arctic and glacial regions. Such instruments should take account of risks posed by new commercial opportunities arising as a result of the disintegration of the Arctic.

Black carbon pollution plays a major role in accelerating global warming and Arctic melting

9. Black carbon is a component of soot that emerges as microscopic particles ("particulate matter") from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels and organic matter. Black carbon exerts two main warming effects on the atmosphere:

· Because it is dark in colour it absorbs thermal energy while airborne.

· When it lands on ice or snow it accelerates melting by reducing reflectivity (albedo) and absorbing heat.

10. Major sources of black carbon in the UK and other EU countries include on and off-road diesel engines, domestic wood and biomass burning, and land or agricultural burning.

11. Black carbon particles are known to travel very long distances: approximately 59% of black carbon reaching the Arctic originates in the EU. [1]

12. The estimated contribution of any pollutant to global warming or cooling is known as radiative forcing. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the direct radiative forcing of black carbon lies at +0.34 watts per square metre (a standard measure of increase in thermal energy). [2] This compares to a higher value for CO2 of +1.66 watts per square metre. However, more recent studies suggest that this is an overly conservative estimate, as it does not take into account the interaction of black particles with other particles; for instance it has been demonstrated that black carbon warming effects may be magnified when black carbon particles mix with particles that normally scatter light such as sulphates. [3]

13. Recent studies find that black carbon is the second or third most important climate forcer after CO2. [4] [5] Black carbon exerts particularly important effects when landing in regions of snow and ice like the Arctic and Himalayas by reducing reflectivity (albedo) and accelerating melting (See graph below).

(Source: Quinn, P, et al. Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, Technical Report No. 1 (2008) ‘The impact of short lived pollutants on Arctic climate’ (2008) at 14)

14. The Arctic is melting at an alarming rate – almost twice the average rate of global temperature rises. [6] There is a general scientific consensus that increased emissions of black carbon have contributed to this rapid warming.

15. A tipping point in the Earth’s climate system refers to climatic or geophysical changes which could lead to irreversible runaway climate change. Rapid Arctic melting is considered to be a particularly dangerous tipping point. In testimony before the US Congress, Professor Charles Zender stated:

"Nothing in climate is more aptly described as a "tipping point" than the 0OC boundary that separates frozen from liquid water-the bright, reflective snow and ice from the dark, heat-absorbing ocean. Arctic snow, glaciers, and sea-ice are on average about 1.5OC warmer than in the preindustrial era. This may not sound like much, but each above-freezing day causes more melt which amplifies the strong Arctic warming effects. GHG and BC-induced warming inexorably push more of the Arctic, earlier in the year, towards its 0OC tipping point." [7]

16. Securing rapid reductions in near-term warming in areas of particular climatic sensitivity such as the Arctic is therefore integral to preventing runaway climate change that could influence global climate systems for millenia:

"Cutting the short-lived forcers is not a substitute for cutting CO2, which controls long-term climate temperature. But if we don't cut the non-CO2 forcers now and slow the rate of warming in the next few decades, we risk passing tipping points for abrupt and catastrophic climate impact." [8]

17. The disintegration of the Arctic is also opening up new commercial possibilities, which will make the Arctic region even more vulnerable to black carbon. In particular, the appearance of new shipping routes brings significant risks of additional and accelerated black carbon deposition on Arctic snow from shipping emissions. International shipping is a comparatively poorly regulated sector for particulate matter emissions. On some estimates, black carbon and other emissions from shipping in the Arctic may increase by as much as a factor of two or three by 2050 unless control measures are put in place. [9] Increasing industrial activity, especially oil and gas extraction, has the potential to increase black carbon emissions within the Arctic itself.

Reducing black carbon emissions can achieve rapid climate change mitigation and slow the rate of Arctic melting

18. While black carbon poses a serious threat to the Arctic, controlling it has the potential to achieve rapid climate change mitigation and slow the rate of Arctic melting.

19. An important distinction between CO2 (a gas) and black carbon (a particle) is that black carbon has a short atmospheric lifespan. Whereas greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide can remain in the atmosphere for centuries after they are released, black carbon remains in the atmosphere for only a matter of days or weeks. This means that cutting black carbon emissions can lead to almost immediate climate change mitigation. By contrast, reductions in emissions of CO2 will not have any effect on global climate for decades. As one leading black carbon expert writes, "If emissions of black carbon are shut off, its warming will be stopped within a few days. This makes it a powerful tool to address warming quickly." [1]

20. Two recent studies have concluded that rapid action to address black carbon and other near-term climate forcers would reduce projected warming in the Arctic by approximately two thirds over the next 30 years. [2] [3]

21. These studies identified several measures for reducing black carbon and other near-term climate forcers, from transport, residential, industrial and agricultural sectors, including:

· Widespread retrofitting of diesel particulate filters to on and off road diesel engines

· Particulate filters or other black carbon control measures (such as slide valves) for shipping

· Clean-burning residential wood/biomass stoves

· Improvements in a limited number of stationary installations such as clean-burning brick kilns and coke ovens

· Improved enforcement of, and additional banning of land and agricultural waste burning, or limiting burning season to avoid highly sensitive spring melt of Arctic

· Scrapping high emitting older diesel engines

· Greater controls for gas flaring.

22. If combined with substantial cuts in CO2 emissions, implementation of these measures would have a high probability of holding the world to 2 degrees of warming over the next 60 years. By contrast, reductions in CO2 emissions alone are unlikely to hold temperature increases to 2 degrees. [4]

23. It is important to stress that reducing emissions of near-term climate forcers is not a substitute for CO2 reductions. Eventual ‘peak warming’ for the planet depends ultimately on the accumulation of concentrations of long-lived greenhouse gases such as CO2. Concerted action on black carbon and other short-lived climate forcers should therefore be regarded as an ‘emergency brake’ to help buy critical time in the coming decades to transition to a low-carbon economy while avoiding potentially irreversible tipping points.

Reducing black carbon emissions will also have significant co-benefits for human health

24. In addition to its impacts on climate, black carbon also has a direct impact on human health. Black carbon is a component of particulate matter, which the UK government estimate contributes to 29,000 premature deaths each year in the UK. [1] Exposure to particulate matter contributes to a range of chronic diseases and other health impacts including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, asthma, impaired lung development in children, low birth weight and premature birth. The health impacts of air pollution in the UK were fully documented in the Environmental Audit Committee’s March 2010 report on air quality and subsequent follow up report published in October 2011.

25. Black carbon is increasingly understood to be the component of particulate matter of most concern from a health point of view. This is because black carbon tends to be emitted as fine particulate matter. Finer particles are thought to be especially damaging to human health because they are so small that they can pass deep into the respiratory system, carrying with them toxic material.

26. Reducing emissions of black carbon will therefore have significant co-benefits for human health. The health benefits of such reductions will mainly occur locally i.e. in the UK. When these co-benefits are considered within cost analyses, as well as efficiency gains from some measures, there is good evidence to suggest that most black carbon actions will see benefits outweigh costs. [2]

E xisting legal and policy frameworks neglect or control b lack carbon

27. The growing consensus within climate science over the importance of black carbon is starting to be recognised in a number of recent initiatives at the international level. However, the importance of black carbon is still not adequately reflected in UK and EU climate law and policy, which remains predominantly focused on CO2.

International/regional level

28. Over the past three years, black carbon has begun to receive increasing attention in various international forums.

29. Black carbon is not currently included in the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the main international legal instrument governing climate change. However, it is expected be included in international air pollution law for the first time later this year. The UNECE Convention on Long Range Transboundary Air Pollution (CLRTAP) is the main international legal instrument governing air pollution. There are 51 parties to the Convention, including all the EU member states and the EU, the US, Canada and Russia. The Gothenburg Protocol to the CLRTAP requires parties to keep national emissions of air pollutants within agreed limits or ceilings. It also sets emission limit values for specific sources of these pollutants such as transport and power generation.

30. The executive body to the CLRTAP established an ad-hoc expert working group on black carbon in 2010, which has already produced reports recommending action on black carbon. Negotiations are underway on a revision of the Gothenburg Protocol, with a revised text expected to be adopted in May 2012. It is expected that the revised protocol will, for the first time, set ceilings for emissions of particulate matter. If these ceilings are set at an ambitious level, they should drive reductions in emissions of both particulate matter and black carbon. The current draft text specifically references black carbon, encouraging parties to seek reductions in particulate matter from source categories known to emit high proportions of black carbon and requiring parties to keep inventories of national black carbon emissions.

31. The International Maritime Organisation has been examining the Arctic and climate impacts of black carbon for a few years but has so far failed to introduce any binding measures to control it.

32. The Arctic Council of Nations is a high level intergovernmental forum to promote cooperation between Arctic nations and peoples. It consists of the eight Arctic States: Canada, Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States, together with six international organisations representing Arctic Indigenous Peoples, who have permanent participant status. [1] The UK has permanent observer status. The Arctic Council recently established a task force for black carbon containment demonstration projects, and has discussed adopting a regional instrument to tackle black carbon. [2]

EU level

33. EU climate and air quality legislation does not currently address black carbon. On 14 September 2011 the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the EU to take urgent action to address non-CO2 climate forcers, including black carbon:

"9. Urges immediate action towards the reduction of black carbon emissions as a fast-action method of halting glacial melting, giving priority to emissions that affect regions of snow and ice, including the Arctic, Greenland and the Himalayan-Tibetan glaciers;

10. Calls upon the EU to promote existing technologies that drastically reduce black carbon emissions; further urges that regulations banning slash-and-burn tactics in forests, enforcing stringent and regular vehicle emissions tests, limiting biomass burning and monitoring the annual emissions of power plants must be supported and encouraged;" [3]

34. EU climate policy is focussed predominantly on CO2 reductions, almost to the exclusion of all other climate forcers. The EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is a primary driver of climate emissions reductions in the traded sectors of the economy, yet in most instances it only covers CO2 emissions. In the non-traded sectors, including transport, GHG reductions are covered by sectoral rules or national measures. Very few climate measures exist to encourage reductions in methane, nitrous oxide or tropospheric ozone (other short-term climate forcers), and black carbon has barely been mentioned in DG Climate Action’s policies or roadmaps to date.

35. EU air quality policy does not directly regulate black carbon. It indirectly and weakly supports reductions of black carbon emissions through controls on particulate matter. EU air quality policy is implemented by two types of legislation: legislation that controls emissions of air pollutants from various sources, and legislation that regulates concentrations of air pollutants (air quality).

36. The main control over emissions of air pollutants is the National Emission Ceilings Directive (the NECD). The NECD implements the EU’s obligations under the Gothenburg Protocol, by setting ceilings on overall national emissions of certain air pollutants. It does not currently regulate black carbon or even particulate matter.

37. Sectoral EU legislation regulates emissions of air pollution from certain source categories, such as industry, road vehicles, non-road machinery and shipping. However, these standards are too low and would need to be tightened significantly in order to capture the scale of feasible black carbon reductions. The Commission has repeatedly voiced its frustration that member states continue to block new proposed legislation which would increase the ambition of these emissions reductions.

38. A further problem with emission standards for road vehicles and non-road machinery is that they only apply to new vehicles and machines. Reducing emissions from older vehicles and machinery therefore relies on fleet and machinery turnover, which can be slow as the most polluting vehicles and machinery often have a long service life (for example the average age of the rolling stock on the UK's railways is nearly 20 years). Without new regulation or action to force retrofit of emissions abatement equipment, it will take decades to clean up the most polluting vehicles and machines.

39. The Ambient Air Quality Directive sets legally binding limits on concentrations of pollutants in outdoor air, to protect human health and the environment. It sets several different limits for particulate matter but no specific limits for black carbon. The current limits are widely breached in urban areas throughout the EU. Full compliance with the Ambient Air Quality Directive would lead to significant reductions in emissions of black carbon.

40. The European Commission has designated 2013 as the "Year of Clean Air", with both the NECD and Ambient Air Quality Directive scheduled for revision. The revision of the NECD will reflect the changes to the Gothenburg Protocol which are currently being negotiated. There is unlikely to be much political will for the revised NECD to go much further than the revised Gothenburg Protocol in terms of the level of the ceilings for particulate matter.

41. However, it may be possible for the NECD to optimise black carbon benefits by requiring member states to specifically target black carbon within their overall obligation to reduce particulate emissions. The main significance of the NECD is its role in driving further legislation to tackle emissions from specific sectors, such as transport and industry. By focusing new sectoral legislation on those sources with high proportions of black carbon emissions and setting ambitious emissions standards, the EU can optimise climate and air quality benefits.

42. The revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directive will involve a reconsideration of the limits for various pollutants. The Commission wants to adopt more stringent limits for particulate matter, especially fine particulate matter. However, there are concerns that several member states, including the UK, will resist more ambitious limits, call for weakening of some limits, and will lobby the Commission to allow for derogations from the revised directive’s obligations. There is therefore a significant risk that instead of optimising black carbon mitigation, the revision of the Ambient Air Quality Directive could reduce rather than optimise black carbon co-benefits.

43. Other important EU law reforms include the inclusion of international maritime shipping within the EU’s greenhouse gas reduction commitment. This represents an opportunity to consider complementary actions on black carbon.

44. Small scale combustion, residential heating and some small scale industrial applications also represent gaps in EU regulation of particulate matter and black carbon.

National level

45. The UK Climate Change Act 2008 commits the UK to legally binding reductions of the six greenhouse gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol. In practice, UK climate policy is heavily focussed on CO2 reductions. Black carbon is not regulated by the Climate Change Act or in any of DECC’s climate policies and some climate policies may actually increase black carbon emissions.

46. The UK Government's Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) is expected to hugely increase the number of biomass burning installations across the UK. Due to air quality concerns, weak emission limits for biomass plants supported by the RHI will be introduced during 2012. However, the required standard for particulate matter has been set at a level (30 grams per Gigajoule) at which most current biomass plants can comply. Biomass boilers will usually substitute for natural gas boilers, which have much lower average particulate matter emissions (0.5 g per Gigajoule). Filter equipment suitable for the smaller biomass plants likely to be supported by the RHI is now available. This can reduce particulate matter and black carbon emissions to very low levels. However, without a requirement in the RHI to use this equipment it is highly unlikely to be fitted.

14 February 2012

[1] See Unger, N. Et. Al, Attribution of climate forcing to economic sectors (2010) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, available at

[1] EU Arctic Footprint and Policy Assessment, Report S ummary, (2010) at 5 .

[2] IPCC “ Changes in Atmospheric Constituents and in Radiative Forcing , ” in Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis, Contribution Of Working Group I to t he Fourth Assessment Report o f t he Intergovernmental Panel o n Climate Change .

[3] Jacobson (2001), Strong Radiative Heating Due to the Mixing State of Black Carbon in Atmospheric A erosols , Nature 409, 695-697 .

[4] Jacobson (2007), Testimony for the Hearing on Black Carbon and Global Warming, United States House of Representatives, 18 October 2007 .

[5] Ramanathan , V. and Carmichael , G. Global and Regional Changes due to Black Carbon , Nature geoscience ( 2008) at 221.

[6] Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme, technical report no.1 (2008) The Impact of Short Lived Pollutants on Arctic Climate, at 1.

[7] Charles Zender, University of California, Arctic Effects of Black Carbon, Written testimony to the US Oversight and Government Reform Committee, House of Representatives, October 2007.

[8] Durwood Zaelke, testimony to the European Parliament Committee on , 17 March 2011.

[9] Letter from Martin Williams, Chair of Executive Body of CLRTAP to the IMO Secretariat, 11 January 2011.

[1] Professor Tami Bond, Testimony for ‘ Clearing the Smoke: Black Carbon Pollution ’ House Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming United States House of Representatives The Honorable Edward Markey, Chair March 16, 2010 .

[2] Shindell D, et. Al. ‘Simultaneously Mitigating Near-Term Climate Change and Improving Human Health and Food Security’ (2012) Science Vol. 335.

[3] UNEP and WMO, ‘ Integrated Assessment of Black Carbon and Tropospheric Ozone – Summary for Decision Makers’ (2012)

[4] Ramanathan and Feng 2008, ‘On avoiding dang erous anthropogenic interfe rence with the climate system: f ormidable challenges ahead’ Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 23 2008, Vol. 105 No. 38.

[1] Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution, ‘Mortality Effects of Long-term E xposure to P articulate A ir P ollution in the UK (2010).

[2] Note 23 above at 186.


[1] Arctic Council, Nuuk Declaration, o n the occasion of the 7 th Ministerial Meeting of The Arctic Council 12 May 2011, Nuuk, Greenland.

[2] Arctic Council, Remarks by Chief Michael Stickman Arctic Council Ministerial, May 12th, 2011 Nuuk, Greenland.

[3] European Parliament , resolution on a comprehensive approach to non-CO 2 climate-relevant anthropogenic emissions, (2011) B7-0474/2011 .

Prepared 24th February 2012