Diesel Engines

Diesel Engines Usage

Exhaust from diesel-powered engines contains black carbon as well as a variety of air pollutants that are detrimental to human health because they increase the risk of heart-lung diseases and lung cancer. Controlling emissions from diesel engines is thus important both for reducing atmospheric warming and human health impacts due to poor local air quality.1

Sources and trends

Diesel engines are used in vehicles for on and off-road transport, shipping, heavy machinery, and for local production of electricity. Mobile sources continue to be the largest emitters of black carbon among Arctic States, accounting for 60% of overall estimated emissions of black carbon. Vintage or super-emitting engines are responsible for a large part of the emissions. Emissions from stationary diesel engines are also of concern because they can lead to poor local air quality. While these emissions are relatively small at a national level compared with emissions from mobile sources, these stationary engines operate 24 hours a day close to where people live and work and are thus a major health concern.2 In Canada, the United States, Russia and Greenland, stationary diesel engines are commonly used for electricity generation in remote communities as well as at off-grid resource industrial sites.

Mitigation options

In many parts of the world, emission from diesel engines have been declining thanks to cleaner fuel and efficient filter technologies for capturing small particles, including black carbon.3

Change in black carbon emission from road diesel vehicles (based on modelling results). Reproduced from Klimont, Z., Kupiainen, K., Heyes, C., Purohit, P., Cofala, J., Rafaj, P., … Schöpp, W. (2017). Global anthropogenic emissions of particulate matter including black carbon. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 17(14), 8681–8723. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-17-862019.”

There is still room for improvement, however. The technologies are available and further progress is mainly driven by policies about clean fuels, the use of best available technologies, and emission standards. The 2019 report from the Arctic Council Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane issued the following recommendations:4

  • Promotion and use of best available technologies (including the use of diesel particulate filters) where technically feasible;
  • Promotion of lower carbon alternative fuels;
  • Emissions standards for on-road vehicles and engines, non-road vehicles and engines, and recreational watercrafts, and;
  • Ensuring availability of ultra-low sulphur fuels.

Most Arctic States and Observer States have adopted or signaled the intent to adopt particulate matter exhaust emission standards and ensured availability of ultra-low sulphur fuels for mobile diesel-powered engines, but further improvement can be achieved by promoting emission-control and fuel standards in other multilateral fora, and by engaging in technical cooperation with other countries

The soon-to-be-published EUA-BCA report Enhancing the reduction of black carbon emissions to protect the Arctic: Mapping the policy landscape of national, regional and international action also calls attention to the following mitigation options:

  • Ensuring annual engine exhaust maintenance testing,
  • Stricter regulation of international trade of second-hand vehicles,
  • Encourage countries to control and stop the sale of ad-blue emulators and chip engine tuning equipment,
  • Harmonisation and enforcement of engine emission standards in the Arctic region.

To completely phase out obsolete technologies from the vehicle fleet and stationary engines, global technology development is also important. The main policy fora are those within which engine standards are set, for example the EU and the US. The particular Arctic aspects are reflected in the importance of off-road and stationary for livelihoods in remote locations and in the that operating conditions place special demands on alternatives.

Details on different policy options for reducing emissions from flaring are described in the report Elements in the policy landscape for action on black carbon in the Arctic: Supporting material to the EUA-BCA report Enhancing the reduction of black carbon emissions to protect the Arctic.

Policy developments

Policy development include emission regulations issued by the European Union for both light and heavy-duty vehicles. The United States is phasing in stringent emissions standards for new mobile source engines across different sectors between 2007 and 2020, which includes requirement for ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel. Canada has recently amended its on-road vehicle and engine emission regulations.5 In Russia, the demand for diesel fuel has grown and the emissions have been poorly understood. However, a recent inventory point to diesel engines as an important cause of concern for black carbon emission in Russia.6

The most important multilateral forum for controlling emission of black carbon from diesel engines is the UNECE Convention on Long-Lange Transboundary Air Pollution, which provides a venue for negotiations and national commitments to reduce emissions from different air pollutants. The 2012 revision of the Convention’s Gothenburg Protocol was the first binding agreement to include emission reduction commitments for fine particulate matter and broke new ground in international air pollution policy by specifically including the short-lived climate pollutant black carbon as a component of particular matter.7 In addition to national commitment to reduce emissions limits, the Gothenburg Protocol parties have adopted Guidance Documents about emission control techniques.8

The Arctic Council has been engaged in technical cooperation to reduce emission from diesel engines, in addition to its work in the Expert Group of Black Carbon and Methane. The technical cooperation includes a series of projects funded by the Arctic Council Project Support Instrument and carried out under the auspices of the Working Group Arctic Contaminants Action Program (ACAP) and run by the US EPA together with Russian government and NGO partners.9 In addition to scoping and inventories of emission sources, this initiative has included demonstration projects such as upgrading the bus fleet in Murmansk, reducing emission from mining equipment, and replacing diesel-burning generators with new technologies.10 In addition to better air quality, demonstrated benefits include better economic and improved working conditions.11 A demonstration project on a tundra reindeer farm showed that upgrading outdated stationary diesel sources of energy can reduce BC emissions while improving reliability and access to electricity and reducing operating costs.12

An important long-term pathway to reducing emissions from diesel engines is to use alternative energy sources, such as solar and wind power, especially for local generation of electricity. ACAP provides a link to a pilot project undertaken across the Arctic.13


Arctic Contaminants Action Program. (2017a). Circumpolar best practices; Policy and Financing Options for Black Carbon Emission Reductions from Diesel Sources. Retrieved from https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/1953

Arctic Contaminants Action Program. (2017b). Fact Sheet—Diesel Black Carbon Emissions in Murmansk. Retrieved from https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/2035

Arctic Contaminants Action Program. (2017c). Fact Sheet—Murmansk Bus Company Retrofit Project. Retrieved from https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/2038

Arctic Contaminants Action Program. (2017d). Reduction of Black Carbon from Diesel Sources in the Russian Arctic—Tundra Reindeer Farm. Retrieved from https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/1961

Arctic Contaminants Action Program. (n.d.). Black Carbon Case Studies—Arctic Council. Retrieved September 17, 2019, from https://arctic-council.org/en/about/working-groups/acap/home/projects/arctic-black-carbon-case-studies-platform/

Arctic Contaminants Action Program, Kholod, N., Malyshev, V., Evans, M., Lipka, O., & Gusev, E. (2015). Economic Benefits, Social Advantages, and Emission Reductions: Bus fleet upgrade by Murmanskavtotrans. Retrieved from https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/389.

Bond, T. C., Doherty, S. J., Fahey, D. W., Forster, P. M., Berntsen, T., DeAngelo, B. J., … Zender, C. S. (2013). Bounding the role of black carbon in the climate system: A scientific assessment. Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, 118(11), 5380–5552. https://doi.org/10.1002/jgrd.50171

Kholod, N., Evans, M., & Kuklinski, T. (2016). Russia’s black carbon emissions: Focus on diesel sources. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 16(17), 11267–11281. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-16-11267-2016

Klimont, Z., Kupiainen, K., Heyes, C., Purohit, P., Cofala, J., Rafaj, P., … Schöpp, W. (2017). Global anthropogenic emissions of particulate matter including black carbon. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, 17(14), 8681–8723. https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-17-8681-2017

UNECE. (2015). Guidance document on control techniques for emissions of sulphur, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter (including PM10, PM2.5and black carbon) from stationary sources. ECE/EB.AIR/117. Retrieved from https://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/envlrtapwelcome/guidance-documents/gothenburg-protocol.html

UNECE. (2016). Guidance document on emission control techniques for mobile sources. ECE/EB.AIR/138. Retrieved from https://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/envlrtapwelcome/guidance-documents/gothenburg-protocol.html

UNECE-LRTAP. Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-level Ozone. Gothenburg Protocol. (1999). https://www.unece.org/env/lrtap/multi_h1.html

US EPA, O. (2014, March 26). Black Carbon Diesel Initiative in the Russian Arctic [Overviews and Factsheets]. Retrieved September 17, 2019, from US EPA website: https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/black-carbon-diesel-initiative-russian-arctic

1 Nazar Kholod, Meredydd Evans, and Teresa Kuklinski, “Russia’s Black Carbon Emissions: Focus on Diesel Sources,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 16, no. 17 (September 12, 2016): 11267–81, https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-16-11267-2016.

2 Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019” (Tromsø, Norway: Arctic Council Secretariat, 2019), http://hdl.handle.net/11374/2411.

3 Zbigniew Klimont et al., “Global Anthropogenic Emissions of Particulate Matter Including Black Carbon,” Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics 17, no. 14 (July 17, 2017): 8681–8723, https://doi.org/10.5194/acp-17-8681-2017.

4 Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019.”

5 Arctic Council.

6 Kholod, Evans, and Kuklinski, “Russia’s Black Carbon Emissions.”

7 UNECE-LRTAP, “Protocol to Abate Acidification, Eutrophication and Ground-Level Ozone. Gothenburg Protocol, as Amended on 4 May 2012” (2012), https://www.unece.org/env/lrtap/multi_h1.html.

8 UNECE, “Guidance Document on Control Techniques for Emissions of Sulphur, Nitrogen Oxides, Volatile Organic Compounds and Particulate Matter (Including PM10, PM2.5and Black Carbon) from Stationary Sources. ECE/EB.AIR/117” (UNECE, 2015), https://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/envlrtapwelcome/guidance-documents/gothenburg-protocol.html; UNECE; UNECE, “Guidance Document on Emission Control Techniques for Mobile Sources ECE/EB.AIR/138” (UNECE, 2016), https://www.unece.org/environmental-policy/conventions/envlrtapwelcome/guidance-documents/gothenburg-protocol.html.

9 OITA US EPA, “Black Carbon Diesel Initiative in the Russian Arctic,” Overviews and Factsheets, US EPA, March 26, 2014, https://www.epa.gov/international-cooperation/black-carbon-diesel-initiative-russian-arctic.

10 Arctic Contaminants Action Program et al., Economic Benefits, Social Advantages, and Emission Reductions: Bus Fleet Upgrade by Murmanskavtotrans (Arctic Council Secretariat, 2015), https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/389; Arctic Contaminants Action Program, Reduction of Black Carbon from Diesel Sources in the Russian Arctic - Tundra Reindeer Farm (Arctic Council Secretariat, 2017), https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/1961; Arctic Contaminants Action Program, “Fact Sheet - Diesel Black Carbon Emissions in Murmansk,” May 2017, https://oaarchive.arctic-council.org/handle/11374/2035.

11 Arctic Contaminants Action Program et al., Economic Benefits, Social Advantages, and Emission Reductions.

12 Arctic Contaminants Action Program, Reduction of Black Carbon from Diesel Sources in the Russian Arctic - Tundra Reindeer Farm.

13 Arctic Contaminants Action Program, “Black Carbon Case Studies - Arctic Council,” accessed September 17, 2019, https://arctic-council.org/en/about/working-groups/acap/home/projects/arctic-black-carbon-case-studies-platform/