Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Climate Change April 24, 2015 - 5:45 am

Arctic Council black carbon deal a breakthrough, U.S. lawyer says

“This is really an extraordinary step for the eight nations”

JIM BELL
Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer based in Washington with the non-profit law firm Earthjustice, gives a presentation on black carbon at an Earth Day event held April 22 at Ottawa City Hall. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Erika Rosenthal, a lawyer based in Washington with the non-profit law firm Earthjustice, gives a presentation on black carbon at an Earth Day event held April 22 at Ottawa City Hall. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)
Soot particles from ship engine exhaust systems, such as this one, fall to the ground in the Arctic where they magnify heat. (FILE PHOTO)
Soot particles from ship engine exhaust systems, such as this one, fall to the ground in the Arctic where they magnify heat. (FILE PHOTO)

OTTAWA — A deal on reducing black carbon emissions that Arctic Council ministers are expected to sign April 24 in Iqaluit represents a major breakthrough, a Washington-based environmental lawyer, Erika Rosenthal, said April 22.

That’s because it’s the first time that the council’s eight member states have acted to reduce human-induced climate change, Rosenthal said.

“This is really an extraordinary step for the eight nations to take together,” she said.

Rosenthal, who spoke at an Earth Day event held at Ottawa City Hall, in 2013 helped the Arctic Athabaskan Council file a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights that sought compensation for Canada’s release of black carbon pollutants into the atmosphere.

The Arctic Athabaskan Council, one of six Arctic Council permanent participant organizations, represents the Dene Nation, the Council of Yukon Indians and 15 Native American villages in Alaska populated by members of the Athabaskan language family.

Rosenthal, a staff lawyer at the environmental law firm Earthjustice, also represented the Athabaskan group in negotiations that led to the Arctic Black Carbon Framework that Arctic Council ministers are expected to sign in Iqaluit.

Though the Arctic Council’s agenda, after its establishment in 1996, was dominated by international environmental issues, the eight member states have not — until now — worked out any agreements on reducing the rate of climate change.

“They will for the first time be tackling climate change mitigation… Arctic nations have an opportunity to lead,” Rosenthal said.

Black carbon — or soot — is one of several short-lived climate change forcers that accelerate the speed of warming in the Arctic.

It’s produced by diesel engines, exhaust from aircraft and ship engines, and fires.

Another source is natural gas flaring, an activity that also releases methane, another short-term climate change forcer, into the air in addition to soot particles.

When the tiny particles of black soot become suspended in the atmosphere, they radiate heat back to the earth.

Researchers have estimated that in the Arctic, black carbon magnifies warming by between 10 to 100 times more than in other regions when it falls on ice and snow, magnifying heat like a black T-shirt on a sunny day.

Because of this, black carbon is believed to be responsible for at least 30 per cent of warming in the Arctic.

Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, the Canadian minister responsible for the Arctic Council, said in 2013 that reducing black carbon emissions is an “integral part of Canada’s broader climate change and clean air agenda.”

“As an Arctic nation, Canada profoundly understands the climate and public health benefits of reducing short-lived climate pollutants, such as black carbon [soot] and methane,” Aglukkaq said in September 2013.

Rosenthal said the Arctic Council’s black carbon framework will be a non-binding arrangement.

But she said it also contains “all the major operational requirements” of a treaty, such as reporting requirements and the formation of an expert group.

“Time is of the essence,” she said, pointing out that quick action on reducing black carbon emissions could slow the pace of Arctic warming in a short amount of time.

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