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The Black Truth behind Global Warming

The writers' faces.
6.9.2021 12:00

Writers: Amelia Ilieva, Bachelor student in a greenery management at PXL University of Applied Sciences, Belgium; Anne Saloniemi, project manager (Bachelor in of Natural Resources, Forestry) in the Future Bioeconomy Expertise at Lapland University of Applied Sciences, Finland.

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The importance of Black Carbon mitigation in the Arctic

Knowledge is power

Carbon dioxide has been the substance most associated with climate change for decades. However, it is only part of the complex picture. Scientific research shows that short-lived climate forcers or SLCFs are where future actions must be focused if the world’s temperature is to be kept in check. SLCFs include black carbon (BC), hydrofluorocarbons, methane and ozone. These pollutants stay only up to a few years in the atmosphere but their contribution to global warming is far greater than the one of carbon dioxide (Saxena and Chandra, 2011; AMAP, 2015b).

The Black Death of the 21st century

The SLCFs affect not only the climate, but the air quality and health of the population. BC is a winner in that category, with its health impacts building up since the 90s. The first exposure limits date back from 1979 (WHO, 1979). Since then, a great number of studies have come out as a result of trying to find a way to consistently measure its quantity and effects.

It is a challenge because BC is often part of a mixture of pollutants, and has therefore been referred to as a major component of particulate matter. What has been confirmed is that the tiny particles can penetrate deep into the lungs, leading to all kinds of respiratory problems (WHO, 2012; AMAP, 2015a). In Finland for example, particulate matter causes 64% of health impacts by air pollutants. There is currently no proof of a safe level of exposure (Finnish Environment Institute, 2020).

The origin

Population growth and economic development greatly increase pollution (AMAP, 2017b, 2017a). BC is a by-product, emitted in the form of tiny particles by incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, wood or biomass. Regardless of the country, the major contributors are the residential heating, transport and mining sector (The Arctic Council, 2021). In Finland, wood combustion from sauna stoves and manually stokes boilers are the biggest BC emitters (Savolahti et al., 2016).


Black is the new white

The short lifespan of BC often leads to deposition close to the source. This is the reason the Arctic states are responsible for almost one-third of all BC emission impacts in the Arctic (AMAP, 2015b). The pollutant often darkens the surface of the snow and ice. The snow then loses its property to reflect light, leading to an even faster melting rate (EUA-BCA, 2021). This is a common phenomenon, close to populated areas that is mostly noticed at the end of winter when there is no fresh snow to cover the pollution.

Making a difference internationally

The severe effects of BC have already been recognized around the globe with legislation around climate and air pollution. However, there are few legal commitments such as the National Emissions Ceiling Directive and recently, the EU Green Deal. Most legislation is based on voluntary initiatives and working groups, often part of the Arctic Council (Timonen et al., 2019; Arctic Council, 2021).

A cross-border approach

The Kolarctic CBC Programme aims to financially support projects that help protect the Arctic (Kolarctic CBC, 2020). As part of this programme, the project Capacity Building for Black Carbon mitigation (CB4BC) was launched in February 2021, with Lapland University of Applied Sciences as the leading partner. It aimed to create a roadmap for BC mitigation in northern Finland and Norway, and in NW Russia.

Multiple workshops took place that strengthened cross-border cooperation and raised awareness of the topic (LUAS, 2021). As part of her exchange internship, Amelia Ilieva, a Greenery management student from Belgium, supported the project in multiple ways. In addition to taking part in meetings and the first two workshops, she supported the project through creating an overview of the state of emissions and sustainability practices within the three countries. She also conducted a study on sustainability and BC in the partner universities.


Spreading the knowledge

Pollutants such as BC are closely related to climate change and therefore, the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Since the youth represents more than half of the world’s population, to a great extent they determine the future of the planet. Therefore, academic institutions have an obligation to pass on knowledge on the SDGs and BC to the next generation (AIESEC, 2016).

For this reason, Amelia evaluated the sustainable initiatives within the universities in Lapland, Troms and Murmansk regions. She distributed a survey to investigate if there is a difference in the knowledge of the SDGs and BC among the teachers and students, regions, genders, age groups, years at the university and incomes. Also, she looked at the information channels on the topics, as well as collected opinions and suggestions on governmental and university practices.

The current situation in Lapland

What Amelia found is that Lapland was strongly involved in sustainability. Lapland University of Applied Sciences has already integrated the topic of the SDGs into many courses and has established a team that integrates the goals into all activities.

Survey results had limited statistical significance. However, they confirmed that teachers have a higher level of knowledge of the SDGs than students. The low response rate from Norway and Russia, possibly indicated a lack of interest or knowledge on the topics. Teachers used mostly university and publications as the main information channels, while students acquired knowledge from the news, social media and slightly less often from the university and publications. Most participants found the SDGs very important and were already taking sustainable actions.

Nevertheless, almost a third of the students did not take any action. Furthermore, half of the teachers and students had no integration of the topics in their lessons. Most of them agreed that the university should integrate the topics better and be more eco-friendly. When it came to the government’s vision, some knew it, while almost one third did not.

Future proof education

Universities are among the mostimportant information channels on the SDGs and BC. To combat climate change, they must fulfil their obligation to set an example and spark the interest of teachers and students on the topics. Each movement starts with an action.

‘’We change the world one small action at a time’’


AIESEC (2016) Youth Speak Global Report 2016. Available at: https://issuu.com/aiesecinternational/docs/report_youthspeak_2016.

AMAP (2015a) AMAP assessment 2015: Black carbon and ozone as Arctic climate forcers, AMAP assessment report.

AMAP (2015b) Summary for policy-makers: Arctic climate issues 2015; Short-lived Climate Pollutants, AMAP summary report.

AMAP (2017a) Adaptation Actions for a changing Arctic: Perspectives from the Barens Sea.

AMAP (2017b) ‘Adaptation actions for a Changing Arctic (AACA) - Barents Area Overview Report’, Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), p. 24.

Arctic Council (2021) ARCTIC COUNCIL: The leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation in the Arctic. Available at: https://arctic-council.org/en/.

EUA-BCA (2021) Reducing Black Carbon Emissions from Residential Heating in the Arctic:EU-funded Action on Black Carbon in the Arctic – Technical Report 4. April 2021.
Finnish Environment Institute (2020) National report BY FINLAND APRIL 2020 Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions Reductions Arctic.

Ilieva, Amelia (2021) An evaluation of the knowledge of the Sustainable Development Goals and Black Carbon within the higher education systems of northern Finland and Norway, and in Kola Peninsula, NW Russia. Thesis at Lapland University of Applied Sciences. Available at: http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-2021060915262.

Kolarctic CBC (2020) What next? 2021-2027. Available at: https://kolarctic.info/kolarctic-what-next-2021-2027/.

LUAS (2021) ‘Black Carbon mitigation roadmap for decision makers in three regions’. Available at: https://www.lapinamk.fi/news/Black-Carbon-mitigation-roadmap-for-decision-makers-in-three-regions/29272/a6608fbf-1dbe-4f0e-a482-f2bc80200ab4.

Savolahti, M. et al. (2016) ‘Black carbon and fine particle emissions in Finnish residential wood combustion: Emission projections, reduction measures and the impact of combustion practices’, Atmospheric Environment, 140, pp. 495–505. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2016.06.023.

Saxena, P. and Chandra, A. (2011) ‘Black carbon: The Dark Horse of Climate Change Drivers’, Pollution Engineering, 43(1), pp. 2009–2012. doi: 10.1002/9783527809080.cataz02167.
The Arctic Council (2021) Addressing Pollution. Available at: https://arctic-council.org/en/explore/topics/pollutants/.

Timonen, H. et al. (2019) ‘Adaptation of Black Carbon Footprint Concept Would Accelerate Mitigation of Global Warming’, Environmental Science and Technology, 53(21), pp. 12153–12155. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.9b05586.

WHO (1979) SULFUR OXIDES AND SUSPENDED PARTICULATE MATTER. Available at: http://www.inchem.org/documents/ehc/ehc/ehc008.htm.

WHO (2012) Health effects of Black Carbon, Atmospheric Environment. doi: 10.1016/j.atmosenv.2007.03.042.


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