“Globally, we are nowhere near reaching the black carbon emissions targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,” says Project Drawdown scientist and report author Yusuf Jameel, PhD. “Fortunately, all of the solutions we need to get back on track are already at our fingertips, they just need to be strategically deployed. It’s imperative that country leaders and funders start to take black carbon seriously and incorporate the solutions identified in this report into their climate action plans. Our planet and the millions of lives at risk each year can’t wait.”
Black carbon hotspots by location and sector
By analyzing two of the most comprehensive datasets on global greenhouse gas emissions, the researchers present country- and region-level black carbon trends across major sectors. They found that the residential sector was the largest source of black carbon accounting for 48% of global emissions, largely driven by the 2.6 billion people, mostly in low- and middle-income countries, who rely on solid fuels such as wood, charcoal, dung, or coal for heating and cooking.
“Dirty air kills more people each year than all lives lost of cancer, smoking, and war combined,” says Project Drawdown scientist and report author Paul West, PhD. “Switching to cleaner cooking fuels improves household air quality, which improves people’s hearts and lungs, and cuts out the time required to gather fuelwood.”
Transportation – specifically diesel-based vehicles and ships – and industry – through inefficient iron and steel production using brick kilns, boilers, and coke ovens – were the next highest contributors at 24% and 12%, respectively.
At the country level, the researchers found that China and India are by far the highest emitters of black carbon contributing to one-third of global emissions, followed by Brazil, Indonesia, and Nigeria. Together, these five countries produce half of global black carbon emissions each year, however, the relative contributions of various high-emitting sectors differed across regions.
Prioritizing high-impact solutions
Beyond identifying major geographic and sectoral sources of black carbon, the researchers also suggest the most promising solutions available today to provide the greatest benefit for people and the planet.
“Though the problem might seem intractable, there are actually several affordable, low-effort solutions. Targeting widespread adoption in a few key places would quickly and dramatically reduce global black carbon emissions,” West says.
The most urgent solution the researchers identified is to provide universal access to clean cooking devices and fuels, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. According to the researchers, doing so by 2030 would cost roughly US$8–10 billion per year and would result in a reduction of around 42% of global residential black carbon emissions while simultaneously improving the well-being of billions of people and curbing deforestation for woodfuel.
“Worldwide, more than 40 countries have a population that relies heavily on dirty cooking fuels,” Jameel says. “Yet, only eight of those have adequate policy measures in place to accelerate the adoption of clean alternatives. This presents a major opportunity for policymakers and funders to work together to reduce black carbon emissions and human suffering.”
Other solutions identified in the report include phasing out diesel vehicles or equipping them with readily available filters to reduce related emissions by as much as 90%; setting stricter air quality standards, such as those in North America and the European Union, that would require the modernization of high-polluting industrial technologies; and, among the most important actions that can be taken, updating the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s list of climate pollutants to include black carbon, which would accelerate reduction efforts.
About Project Drawdown
Project Drawdown is the world’s leading resource for climate solutions. By advancing science-based climate solutions, fostering bold climate leadership, and promoting new narratives and voices, we are helping the world stop climate change as quickly, safely, and equitably as possible. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, Project Drawdown is funded by individual and institutional donations.