Table of Contents

  • This report has been produced by the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) under a grant from the Nordic Council of Ministers under its Arctic Cooperation Program, as part of a pilot project to reduce emissions of black carbon reaching the Arctic from residential heating from wood burning in Nordic countries. Studies by the Arctic Council; the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and most recently, ICCI together with the World Bank have identified this source as one of the most important impacting the Arctic, and one of the few that is growing. Because of the strong impact of black carbon on snow and ice melt, reducing its emissions from wood burning represents an important means for Nordic nations to slow Arctic warming and melting, and related impacts on the global climate system, by taking actions within our own borders.

  • Black carbon (the blackening component of soot) has long been recognized as a source of ambient air pollution with negative health effects, but only in recent years have scientists become aware of its role in accelerating near-term climate change. Black carbon1 (BC) – a form of particulate matter (PM) produced through the incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels – warms the earth by absorbing heat in the atmosphere and by reducing the earth’s albedo (the ability to reflect sunlight) in snow and ice covered areas. Studies have shown that BC emissions have a particularly strong impact in the Arctic, where soot particles, deposited onto snow and ice, hasten the onset of the spring melt and enhance the melting during the melt season. As ocean and land surfaces become exposed, they absorb more solar radiation, reinforcing the heating effect.

  • Black carbon (commonly known as soot) has long been recognized as a source of ambient air pollution with negative health effects, but only in recent years have scientists become aware of its role in accelerating near-term climate change. Black carbon (BC) – a form of particulate matter (PM) produced through the incomplete combustion of biomass and fossil fuels – warms the earth by absorbing heat in the atmosphere and by reducing the earth’s albedo (the ability to reflect sunlight) in snow and ice covered areas. Studies have shown (UNEP and WMO 2011, AMAP 2011, US-EPA 2012) that BC emissions have a particularly strong impact in the Arctic, where soot particles, deposited onto snow and ice, hasten the onset of the spring melt and enhance the melting during the melt season. As ocean and land surfaces become exposed, they absorb more solar radiation, reinforcing the heating effect.

  • Over the past few decades, the use of bio-fuels for domestic heating has steadily increased in the Nordic countries. Rising oil prices as well as greater climate change awareness of wood as a climate-neutral (over the long term) fuel explain much of this general trend. This is building on a long tradition of wood burning in the Nordic countries. There has also been an increase in the aesthetic appeal of wood-burning stoves, where high-design stoves and fireplaces are seen as enhancing the home environment, while providing additional heat. Wood is not exclusively burned for heating purposes: fireplaces and wood stoves also serve a social function in Nordic countries, by providing for a gathering point for family and friends.

  • The recognition of wood burning emissions as an environmental problem in the Nordic countries began in the 1970s. The effects of inefficient woodburning technology, combined with a widespread lack of knowledge of proper fire-making practices, contributed to a growing concern about the impact of residential wood burning on ambient air pollution, particularly in urban areas.

  • Over the past few decades, growing awareness of the climate and health threat posed by energy-related pollutants has given rise to a range of international efforts to curb emissions of particulates (PM 10, PM 2.5) as well as greenhouse gases. A number of these initiatives have the potential to reduce the environmental impact of residential wood burning in Nordic countries – helping to protect both local air quality and the Arctic climate. The following is a preliminary overview.

  • Thus far, no comprehensive effort has been made to weigh the relative efficacy of various policies and measures aimed at reducing woodburning emissions. The following pages offer a preliminary overview of where mitigation efforts have had a relevant impact on particle pollution especially, and where they have fallen short. These have future relevance then for which approaches might prove most successful for achieving reductions in emissions of black carbon as well. The discussion notes that serious inconsistencies between the measurement methods and emission factors used by Nordic countries present a current obstacle to make comparisons among the various and even similar approaches to reduce emissions in the Nordic countries.

  • When it comes to policies aimed at improving the environmental impact of wood stoves and boilers the different Nordic policy instruments can be classified as...

  • The implications for the findings in the previous chapters for future Nordic national and joint work are summarized below. Even if the purpose of this report is not to formulate or propose regulations or legislation pertinent to black carbon, past experience, and the special character of black carbon makes it possible to indicate potential useful ways forward. These comprise two main and basic challenges: first, new and better low black carbon emitting stoves and boilers must be developed, tested and viably put on the market. Second, old inefficient stoves must be phased out. Both of these must be addressed in the future.

  • This report focus on the emissions of soot (Black Carbon) from wood burning. Problems with emissions from wood burning are however not new. They arise primarily because of a combination of the use inappropriate technology for wood burning and the fact that people do not manage their fires correctly. A number of measures have been taken in the Nordic countries in order to prevent air pollution from wood burning. These measures have not been focused on emissions of black carbon, but rather on local and regional health impacts. However, reducing emissions of Black Carbon will also reduce overall emissions of particulate matter.

  • The market for domestic heating products shows a great diversity of products across the Nordic countries. Due to various national, cultural, and local conditions, space heating demands have been met in many different ways in the Northern countries. The heating appliance market in general is characterised by its diversity and complexity. However biofuel use plays roughly the same role in meeting the heating demand in the four countries