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Implementation barriers, technical opportunities and the human factor in focus at Geneva event

February 07, 2020

Policy implementation barriers need more attention, and while available technologies can have big effects, some of these require better understanding of behavioral change. These conclusions highlight issued raised during a panel discussion organized by the Action on Black Carbon in the Arctic in Geneva 12 December at the 40th anniversary of the Air Convention. The event, with the theme ‘Eye on Black Carbon’, gathered an audience of almost 70 policy makers listening to three presentations and a lively discussion on the challenges associated with slowing down Arctic warming by reducing black carbon emissions.

Stefan Åström, senior researcher at IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute and main organizer of the event, highlighted the importance of black carbon as a driver of Arctic warming. He emphasized that emissions need to be reduced not only in the Arctic region but also in the rest of the world to achieve necessary slowdown of Arctic warming.

Marcus Amann, program director of the Air Quality and Greenhouse Gases Program at IIASA, identified key measures for reducing emissions. While emissions are projected to go down, more action is needed. As top priority in the Arctic and in Arctic Council observer states, Amann highlighted residential heating and cooking with solid fuels respectively. Agricultural burning is also an important source in both Arctic and observer states. Other significant sources were flaring and forest management in the Arctic states and open burning of municipal waste and diesel vehicles in observer states. The priority solutions for Asia align very well with priorities for improving air quality for health reasons, and there are many co-benefits with several Sustainable Development Goals, he said.

Kristín-Linda Árnadóttir, chair of the Arctic Council’s Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane, provided an overview of current black carbon efforts within the Arctic Council, including the importance of collaborating with the region’s indigenous peoples. She highlighted that the Arctic countries report emissions to this expert group, which issues a detailed report with recommendations every two years, the latest in 2019. She also noted the positive trajectories of declining emissions and that expectation of further decline seemed realistic.

In the subsequent panel discussion, Angela Filipas from the European Investment Bank, Jennifer Kerr from Environment and Climate Change Canada and Susanne Lindahl from the European Commission provided further input around two key themes: gaps in knowledge and policy, and international collaboration. A key gap that the panelists identified was in policy implementation, especially for wood burning policies, which can require behavioral change at the household level and where current initiatives are insufficient or have failed. We need studies on acceptance for behavioral change measures, said Stefan Åström while Kristín-Linda Árnadóttir highlighted a need for more focus on the linkage between international policy and local initiatives.

The issue of international coordination of policy efforts brought comments about being careful not to aim for too much alignment. The take-home message was that there are advantages with a more pluralistic and situation-dependent approach, where both separated and coordinated policy efforts can be effective. For example, Kristín-Linda Árnadóttir pointed out that it can sometimes be easier and faster to move forward in the context of soft-law setting such as the Arctic Council.

Jennifer Kerr pointed to the Global Forum for International Cooperation on Air Pollution as an arena that held great potential for further information sharing among a broad range of countries. It was launched at the UNECE Air Convention’s 40th anniversary as a response to the need for stronger cooperation with countries from outside the UNECE region. Another opportunity mentioned to bring policy forward is the upcoming review of the Gothenburg Protocol under the Air Convention, where it is possible to submit formal or informal documents to the Convention’s working group on strategies and review, which convenes in May 2020.

As the Action on Black Carbon in the Arctic moves forward, the insights from the panel discussion will provide important input to a “roadmap” on how to move forward to reducing emission of black carbon that affect the Arctic.