Everybody knows dark surfaces absorb light and grow warmer, while white surfaces reflect light and stay cooler.

When a surface is about 15 million square kilometers, whether it absorbs or reflects the sun’s light can have a major effect on the surrounding environment.

Black soot — released by the burning of carbon-based fuels worldwide — is falling on the Arctic Ocean, covering sea ice, absorbing heat and accelerating melting. It’s one reason the effects of climate change are occurring more rapidly in the Arctic.

The eight nations that border the Arctic Ocean want to address this soot problem. In April, the Arctic Council agreed to a Framework for Action on Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions. Its goals include:

Burning the previous year’s crop stubble off the fields is a widespread practice that generates soot. (Shutterstock/think4photop)
  • Compilation of national inventories for black carbon and methane emissions.
  • National reporting on domestic mitigation efforts.
  • Greater international cooperation on reducing these dangerous pollutants.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pledged to encourage Arctic Council members to take these steps as he began a two-year term as chairman of the panel.

Erika Rosenthal, an attorney with the nongovernmental organization Earthjustice, was involved in drafting the framework on carbon, representing the interests of Arctic peoples. In a blog post, she called the council’s adoption of the framework “an exciting opportunity to help the region deliver real emissions reductions and set a precedent on collective Arctic action on climate mitigation.”

International action to reduce these short-lived pollutants started in 2012, with the formation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition. The organization, based in the U.N. Environment Programme, has 100 members representing countries, international organizations and private industry engaged in a wide range of activities to reduce short-lived pollutants.