New Research Highlights the Promise of Black Carbon Reduction

By Jacob Widlitz, staff editor Black carbon reduction is an issue that could finally break through the global warming stalemate. Most solutions to global warming are met with apathy from policymakers and the general public. The problem just seems too big and expensive to solve. Black carbon emissions, however, can be reduced relatively quickly and would go a long way towards slowing down the globe’s rapidly rising temperatures.

Black carbon emissions have a direct impact on global temperature change, arctic ice melting, and the health of the individuals who inhale them. Two recent papers by Grieshop et al. and Baron et al. discuss the enormous potential of black carbon reduction.

According to Grieshop, black carbon causes approximately 600 times the warming of one ton of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. In fact, the Copenhagen Consensus on Climate concluded that 40% of current net warming is caused by black carbon. Mitigating black carbon completely would remove about 25 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere over a 50-year period. This reduction would considerably combat atmospheric warming.

Baron does observe some shortcomings in calculating black carbon emission, as he states that there are uncertainties with quantifying its effect on climate change. Accordingly, he notes that it would be difficult to use emission trading for black carbon, which is complicated by the fact that it is broadly dispersed across the planet.

Grieshop and Baron both provide a straightforward strategy: reduce emissions where it is cheapest and most beneficial to do so, in the developing world. They suggest four specific policies for the international community:

  • Improve scientific research to better understand black carbon problems
  • Implement better technologies for stoves and fuel in developing countries
  • Provide sustainable financing for these technologies through microfinance
  • Provide incentives for developing countries that reward emissions reduction

Such plans are incredibly promising. Implementing better stoves and fuels “can lead to dramatic improvements in health and is eminently feasible,” according to Grieshop. It also reduces black carbon. Baron’s policy proposal combines stoves and fuels with land use reform, leading to a predicted global black carbon reduction of 19%. The result: postponing climate change effects by decades.

Unfortunately, a reduction in black carbon would account for only a small portion of the decrease in pollution needed to make a long-term impact on climate change. However, cutting black carbon emissions could delay climate change long enough to allow for the development of more efficient, cheaper greenhouse gas reduction technologies.

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