Black carbon reduction: a short-term means to combat climate change

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Publish date: October 8, 2009

Written by: Veronica Webster

BRUSSELS – Black carbon is likely the second most important contributor to global warming after CO2 and could be removed from the environment almost completely through the use of available and affordable technology, said Dr. Alex Friedrich, head of the Environment, Transport, and Noise Division of the Federal Environmental Agency in Germany.

Dr. Friedrich was speaking at a policy discussion as part of the “Soot Free for the Climate” campaign held on October 7th.

Black carbon is composed of small light-absorbing graphitic particles produced by diesel engines such as those found in cars, lorries, planes or ships. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), Europe is the greatest source of black carbon and accounts for 63 percent of black carbon deposition on ice in the Arctic region. These deposits reduce the albedo effect and thus directly accelerate the melting of the ice cap.

Black carbon emissions are a huge cause of climate change today. Moreover, the melting of the Arctic ice cap has caused an increase in maritime transport in the region, which has led to additional deposits of black carbon on the ice cap. This cycle will continue unless something is done to cut down on emissions from shipping.

Dr. Friedrich explained that black carbon could be reduced by 99 percent by implementing Diesel Particulate Filters (DPF) in certain transport vehicles, for example passenger cars and light transport vehicles. This technology is affordable and readily available. Due to the short-lived nature of these particles, the beneficial effect on the environment would be immediate.

As it stands, however, the fuel and emissions standards for diesel passenger and light commercial vehicles, lorries and buses as described in the European Commission’s Euro V and Euro IV standards are insufficiently tough. Michael Walsh, a transportation consultant member of ICCT, stressed that the enforcement of Euro V and VI must not be postponed further but rather enforced with greater urgency.
“Countries such as China are responsible for a large proportion of global black carbon emissions. Emissions standards in these countries tend to lag those adopted in Europe by about five years. The sooner Europe introduces measures to drastically reduce black carbon emissions, the sooner nations like China will follow,” he said.

“Bellona worked together with other environmental NGO’s and some states – including Norway – to implement limits on particle emissions from ships during the revision process of IMO Marpol Annex VI last year, but were stopped by the high number of shipping friendly flags represented at IMO,” says Konrad Pütz of Bellona, referring to the International Maritime Organisation’s Convention for the Prevention of Pollution From Ships, which is abbreviated as Marpol.

“The EU and EU member states could put in place unilateral requirements for ships accessing EU ports. In the past, EU measures on environment or safety of shipping – or the threat thereof – has led to important improvements in global rules for shipping. The EU should do the same for black carbon,” he said.