The Arctic region is warming considerably faster than the rest of the globe, with important consequences for the ecosystems and human exploration of the region. However, the reasons behind this Arctic amplification are not entirely clear. As a result of measures to enhance air quality, anthropogenic emissions of particulate matter and its precursors have drastically decreased in parts of the Northern Hemisphere over the past three decades. Here we present simulations with an Earth system model with comprehensive aerosol physics and chemistry that show that the sulfate aerosol reductions in Europe since 1980 can potentially explain a significant fraction of Arctic warming over that period. Specifically, the Arctic region receives an additional 0.3 W m-2 of energy, and warms by 0.5 °C on annual average in simulations with declining European sulfur emissions in line with historical observations, compared with a model simulation with fixed European emissions at 1980 levels. Arctic warming is amplified mainly in fall and winter, but the warming is initiated in summer by an increase in incoming solar radiation as well as an enhanced poleward oceanic and atmospheric heat transport. The simulated summertime energy surplus reduces sea-ice cover, which leads to a transfer of heat from the Arctic Ocean to the atmosphere. We conclude that air quality regulations in the Northern Hemisphere, the ocean and atmospheric circulation, and Arctic climate are inherently linked.