The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC70) meeting brought progress by member countries toward a phase out of the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by vessels operating in the Arctic.
Heavy fuel oil (HFO) breaks down extremely slowly in cold Arctic waters and is very difficult clean up in the event of a spill. While HFO powers some 44 percent of the ships currently operating in the Arctic, it accounts for more than 75 percent of the fuel onboard those ships, according to ICCT figures.
HFO is already banned throughout Antarctica and in the national park waters around the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, leaving only a strictly regulated corridor for ships to access the islands.
“By recognizing the threats posed by spills and black carbon emissions from heavy fuel oil, the IMO today took a massive step towards the phase out of this dirty fuel from ships sailing in Arctic waters. Getting HFO out of the Arctic will protect the environment and human health, and protect coastal communities and food security,” said Clean Arctic Alliance advisor Dr Sian Prior. “IMO member countries must now capitalize on this momentum, by bringing forward concrete proposals in time for the May 2017 MEPC meeting, both to ensure the end of the HFO era, and that the shipping industry starts transitioning towards cleaner fuels, as it expands its operations in the Arctic’s fragile and sensitive environment”.
After three papers on HFO, and one on Arctic food security were presented on Friday, several Arctic countries, as well as IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, stated that they shared the concerns stated in the papers and on the need for further consideration of the risks. The IMO seeks to add new work on the regulation of HFO to its program, and set a deadline for completion of this work, in order to phase out Arctic HFO by 2020.
“Yesterday's IMO decision to cut sulphur content in shipping fuels to 0.5 percent by 2020 was also crucial, as it will reduce the volume of HFO used by Arctic shipping,” continued Prior. “However, the reduction will not eliminate the use of HFO in the Arctic, and a phase out remains the most desirable way forward.”
“By ending HFO use in Arctic shipping, the IMO would not only limit the risks of an HFO spill, but also ensure a reduction of harmful C02 and black carbon emissions in the Arctic region,” said Prior. “The shipping industry must move towards fossil-fuel free shipping - this means phasing out HFO, and replacing it with cleaner, more efficient fuels - for example so-called transition fuels, like LNG or lighter distillate fuels.”
In September 2016, the United States and Canada formally notified the IMO that a “heavy fuel oil spill in the Arctic could cause long-term damage to the environment”. This follows March 2016 commitments made by U.S. President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to “determine with Arctic partners how best to address the risks posed by heavy fuel oil use and black carbon emissions from Arctic shipping”. Also in September, the Danish political party Venstre, the Danish Shipowner’s Association, and an Arctic cruise sector leader Hurtigruten called for regulating or banning the use of HFO in the Arctic.
“Arctic waters include some of the world’s most productive ocean ecosystems, providing sustenance to large populations of whales, seals, and walruses and seabirds. Some of the world’s highest volume fisheries rely on the incredibly productive Arctic waters. By ending the use of HFO in Arctic waters the IMO would the preservation of these ecosystems,” concluded Dr Prior.
On Wednesday, October 26, a panel of Arctic indigenous speakers from Russia, the U.S. and Canada addressed the IMO, which is currently not advised by an indigenous delegation when setting shipping policy. The Arctic delegation, which included Eduard Zdor of the Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka, Hans Lennie of the Inuvik Hunters and Trappers Committee and the Inuvialuit Game Council, and Tagak Curley, considered one of the Fathers of Nunavut, met with Secretary-General Kitack Lim to discuss a wide-range of issues including climate change and the increase in number of ships operating in Arctic waters.