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Arctic Council's Black Carbon and Methane Work Highlighted at COP21

At the UN Climate Change Conference (COP21), in Paris, France, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Iceland generously hosted and prepared a side event focused on the Arctic Council’s work on short-lived climate pollutants – in particular, black carbon and methane.

Iceland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Gunnar Bragi Sveinsson, opened the event; in his introductory remarks, he set the stage for the unique role of black carbon, methane and other short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs) in climate change in the Arctic. He noted that efforts to mitigate SLCP emissions are as important as efforts to address emissions of carbon dioxide. Minister Sveinsson was followed by three subject-matter experts.

  • Kaarle Kupiainen, a delegate to AMAP and a Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), presented on sources and impacts of black carbon and methane in the Arctic. He highlighted the history of AMAP’s work in this area, stretching back to 2008, and pointed out forcefully that the Arctic States and Arctic Council Observers are estimated to be responsible for around 50% of global anthropogenic emissions of black carbon and methane, with the Arctic States themselves having an outsized impact in the Arctic region.
  • Eva Thörnelöf of the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency spoke on behalf of ACAP. She presented an abridged catalog of ACAP’s extensive work to tackle concrete sources of black carbon in the Arctic. She drew the audience’s attention in particular to ACAP’s work on reducing emissions from residential wood burning, and went in-depth when highlighting the benefits that accrued to businesses, residents and the environment from the conversion of a fleet of diesel buses in Murmansk.
  • Karen Florini of the U.S. Department of State, the Chair of the recently-established Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane, spoke third, and addressed the motivations and plans for the Arctic Council’s upcoming work on black carbon and methane. She highlighted the unique role that SLCPs play in the Arctic environment, and the outsized benefit that can accrue from simple, concrete actions to reduce SLCP emissions.

Following their presentations, the panelists were joined on stage by Jannie Staffansson, a subject-matter expert from the Saami Council, who addressed the specific impacts that SLCP emissions have on the lives of indigenous peoples in the Arctic, both in terms of climate change and in terms of public health. The event was attended by 35 people and was moderated by the Director of the Arctic Council Secretariat.

Though this was the only Arctic Council-focused side event at COP21, the Arctic Council’s work was presented as part of two other side events as well. Jón Ólafsson, a member of AMAP’s Expert Group on Arctic Ocean Acidification, spoke as part of an event “Ocean Challenges and Innovation”, and Karen Florini spoke specifically about the Arctic Council’s work on SLCPs at the event “Lima Paris Action Agenda - SLCP Focus Day”, arranged by the Climate & Clean Air Coalition (CCAC), which took place on 4 December.

Photo, from left to right: Magnus Johannesson (Arctic Council Secretariat), Kaarle Kupiainen (Finnish Environment Institute SYKE), Eva Thörnelöf (Swedish Environmental Protection Agency), Jannie Staffansson (Saami Council), Karen Florini (U.S. Department of State)