Rodebay, Greenland - July 09, 2018: The local waste incineration plant. Rodebay, also known as Oqaatsut is a fishing settlement north of Ilulissat.
Rodebay, Greenland - July 09, 2018: The local waste incineration plant. Rodebay, also known as Oqaatsut is a fishing settlement north of Ilulissat. © iStock

Black carbon and methane are short-lived climate pollutants that are contributing to atmospheric warming. In addition, black carbon that falls on snow and ice accelerates the melting of these reflective surfaces –consequently accelerating the impacts of global warming in the Arctic. Black carbon and methane emissions also contribute directly to air pollution that harms human health.

Arctic States are uniquely positioned to slow Arctic warming caused by emissions of black carbon. Despite generating just ten percent of global black carbon emissions, Arctic States are responsible for 30% of black carbon’s warming effects in the Arctic, due to the greater warming impact of local emission sources. Action by non-Arctic states is also important, as black carbon emissions can be transported large distances from their source to Arctic regions.

Methane is a well-mixed greenhouse gas, so reducing global sources will benefit the Arctic. It exerts a much stronger warming on the atmosphere than CO2, but has a much shorter lifetime in the atmosphere; 12 years compared to 100 years. Therefore, reductions in methane, whether from Arctic or non-Arctic States, can mitigate near-term warming of the Arctic.

Guri Storaas
Chair of the Arctic Council’s Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane

The Arctic Council's work on black carbon and methane

Prompted by the climate impacts of black carbon and methane emissions, the Ministers of the Arctic Council adopted “Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions Reductions: An Arctic Council Framework for Action” in April 2015.

In the Framework, Arctic States commit to:

  • take “enhanced, ambitious, national and collective action to accelerate the decline in our overall black carbon emissions and to significantly reduce our overall methane emissions”
  • submit biennial national reports on countries’ existing and planned actions to reduce black carbon and methane, national inventories of these pollutants and, if available, projections of future emissions.

Summaries of Progress and Recommendations

About the Expert Group

To help implement these commitments, the Framework established an Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. The Expert Group was tasked with developing a biennial “Summary of Progress and Recommendations” based on the national reports and other relevant information. These reports are submitted through the Senior Arctic Officials to Ministers at Arctic Council Ministerial meetings.

Focus areas

The Expert Group delivered its first Summary of Progress and Recommendations to the Arctic Ministers at the 10th Ministerial meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA, in 2017 and its second at the 11th Ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland, in 2019. In developing recommendations for its Summary Reports, the Expert Group sought to identify a focused menu of priority actions from which Arctic States could select – based on their national circumstances and recognizing the need for economic development of Arctic communities. These priority actions include recommendations on how to reduce emissions from

  • mobile and stationary* diesel-powered sources
  • oil and gas methane leakage, venting and flaring
  • residential combustion
  • solid waste disposal
  • agriculture and animal husbandry*
  • management of wildfires*

* added in 2019

Black carbon and methane emissions and their effects on the terrestrial and marine Arctic environment and human health has emerged as a cross-cutting theme across Arctic Council Working Groups. Experts from these Working Groups are covering aspects of the issue and are working together to contribute to a better understanding of the issue at large.