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Progress towards a ban on Heavy Fuel Oil in Arctic


Following agreement at the July 2017 meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC71), the IMO is embarking on a body of work aimed at mitigating the risks of heavy fuel oil (HFO). This move was welcomed by the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations calling for a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel in the Arctic – as the simplest and most effective way to mitigate its effects. Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans – accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO; over half by vessels flagged to non-Arctic states – countries that have little if any connection to the Arctic. The Arctic is under pressure – climate change is fuelling temperature rises double the rate of further south. As sea ice melts and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state-flagged vessels running on HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. This, combined with an increase in Arctic state-flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, will greatly increase the risks of HFO spills. Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in cold polar waters, it breaks down slowly, proving almost impossible to clean up. A HFO spill would have long-term devastating effects on Arctic indigenous communities, livelihoods and the marine ecosystems they depend upon. HFO is also a greater source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate fuel and liquefied natural gas (LNG). When emitted and deposited on Arctic snow or ice, the climate warming effect of black carbon is up to five times more than when emitted at lower latitudes, such as in the tropics (see infographic: Responding to Arctic Shipping Oil Spills: Risks and Challenges).


What to expect from MEPC72

The agenda of MEPC 72, which runs from 9-13 April at IMO HQ in London, does not include a formal move towards a ban on HFO. However, a number of papers have been submitted from member states and NGOs “on the development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters”. While NGOs cannot disclose the contents of these papers, on March 13th, Foresight Climate and Energy Business reported that one paper, co-sponsored by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US, calls for a ban on HFO. On March 20th, Radio Canada International published a story, Canada moves to dilute Finnish proposal to ban dirty fuels in the Arctic, quoting from the MEPC paper: “A single HFO spill could have devastating and lasting effects on fragile Arctic marine and coastal environments,” the Finnish proposal says. “In addition, Arctic shipping is projected to continue to rise, thus increasing the risk of a spill. For these reasons, the ban on HFO should be implemented as soon as possible, and any delay in implementation of the HFO ban by eligible ships should be short-lived.” The content of this paper will set out the stall for how movement towards a ban may occur, and sets up potential tasks for PPR6, the IMO’s next meeting of its Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response 18-22 February 2019. Russia, Canada and Denmark have all supported IMO work to consider ways to mitigate the risks associated with HFO. However, to date, Russia has not supported a ban on use of HFO in the Arctic, and while this appears to be still the case, the Clean Arctic Alliance notes that a Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot is speaking openly about the need to move away from oil-based fuels. Denmark has not yet made public a formal position on a HFO ban in the Arctic (this appears due to ongoing, but unconcluded consultation with Greenland). Canada has previously supported a “phase down” on HFO in a joint Trudeau/Obama announcement in December 2016, and proposed work to mitigate the risks of HFO at MEPC71 in 2017, however this position appears to have changed, and for now remains unclear.


Arctic Indigenous Attendees at MEPC72

Several Arctic indigenous representatives will be in London the creation of a consistent indigenous representation to the IMO, and also to explain why shipping issues related to climate change and environmental protection are important to their communities. They will attend the IMO meetings as part of NGO delegations, take part in side events and plan to meet with the IMO Secretary General of the IMO. All are available to meet media.

Ø Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Canada, Inuit Rights Activist & Author
Ø Verner Wilson, Alaska, Friends of the Earth, formerly with the Bristol Bay Native Association
Ø Austin Ahmasuk, Alaska, Kawerak, Inc. (Bering Straits regional non-profit)
Ø Eduard Zdor, Russian Federation, former director of the Chukotka Marine Mammal Hunters Association

From 13:30-14:00, Monday, 10 April, Verner Wilson, Austin Ahmusak and Eduard Zdor will speak at the IMO, Arctic indigenous voices: Climate change, new shipping routes and solutions for mitigation and adaptation.

Source: Clean Arctic Alliance

 

 

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