Arctic Council Meeting and Cook Stoves

Representatives from Arctic countries are meeting this week in Greenland in the annual meeting of the Arctic Council. And, for the first time, an American Secretary State will represent American interests at the meeting.

The meeting is coming amid growing concerns that the Arctic is melting much, much faster than scientists predicted even a few years ago. Despite the urgency of the problem, there is little hope that a comprehensive international climate treaty will be agreed upon anytime soon.

Also, the top polluter among the Arctic nations–the United States — is apparently incapable of passing any sort of climate or energy legislation. So, we are left with finding other creative approaches to tackling this problem. And that, apparently, will be the focus of the meeting this week. From the Washington Post:

At this week’s meetings in Greenland, attended by diplomats of the Arctic Council, Clinton will be joined by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar. Aides said they plan to highlight the role played by “black carbon” — essentially soot from inefficient combustion, such as natural gas flaring, wood stoves and the controlled burning of agricultural waste.

Such pollutants play an outsize role in Arctic warming, scientists say, essentially causing ice to melt faster than can be explained by rising temperatures alone. But instead of an international treaty, Arctic Council nations will be encouraged to adopt measures unilaterally to control emissions of soot as well other “short-term drivers” of Arctic warming, administration officials said.

“The point here is to have a coordinated focus, a coordinated set of efforts to put attention on this issue and to encourage countries to step up to the plate, to take strong actions domestically,” Deputy Secretary of State Jim Steinberg said this week in previewing the trip by Clinton, who will be the first U.S. secretary of state to attend an Arctic Council meeting.


One of the areas policymakers might focus on is addressing emissions from traditional cookstoves and open fires that serve as the primary way that nearly 3 billion people worldwide prepare meals. This form of cooking releases significant amounts of black carbon and accounts for nearly 2 million deaths each year, according to the U.N. Foundation, which is leading a joint effort between the public and private sectors that aims to mobilize $250 million in funding through the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves.

That “wood stoves” bit I emphasized is significant because it speaks to one initiative championed by Secretary Clinton: Clean Cookstoves*. Inefficient wood burning stoves that are common in the developing world do have a deleterious effect on the environment.  Replacing those stoves with more efficient cooking technology doesn’t require treaties or new legislation, just some political will and funding.  In the absence of a game-changing international climate accord or new legislation here in the United States, these kinds of partnerships are probably our current, best hope for slowing the harmful effects of green house gas emissions.

*The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves is lead by the United Nations Foundation.  Disclosure.