Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic February 03, 2016 - 7:29 am

Ban heavy fuels in Arctic shipping: environmental orgs to Arctic Council

“The risks to the marine environment, the climate and public health are too great"

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
The bulk carrier Nordic Orion sails through the Northwest Passage in 2013. (HANDOUT PHOTO)
The bulk carrier Nordic Orion sails through the Northwest Passage in 2013. (HANDOUT PHOTO)

More than a dozen environmental organizations from across the globe have petitioned the Arctic Council to ban the use of heavy oil in Arctic shipping.

In a letter written by 15 different groups, they ask the Arctic Council’s eight member countries to enact a ban on heavy fuel oil or HFO, because of its threat to the Arctic eco-system.

“The risks to the marine environment, the climate and public health are too great to permit the continued use of HFO in Arctic shipping,” the group wrote in a letter to Ambassador David Balton, who is chair of the senior arctic officials group under the United States’ chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

The risks are numerous, the letter said:

• Effectively cleaning up a spill of heavy fuel oil in ice-covered waters is “impractical, if not impossible,” the groups wrote. “Coupled with it viscosity and tendencies to sink and stick to anything it comes into contact with, cleanup effort becomes insurmountable.

• Banning the use of HFO in the Arctic would reduce black carbon, a potent climate-forcing substance, the group argues. The Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme estimates that Arctic warming could be cut by 0.25 C by 2025 through global reductions in black carbon.

• Banning the use of heavy oil fuels will not only help decrease global and regional warming levels, the group says, but also improve air quality and public health.

• Finally, the group argues the ban could be done easily through a minor amendment to MARPOL, the international convention for the prevention of pollution from ships.

“With concerted action by the Arctic states, under U.S. leadership, this could be achieved at the International Maritime Organization in a relatively short amount of time,” reads the letter, signed by groups such as Defenders of Wildlife, Clean Air Task Force, Earthjustice and Ocean Conservancy.

Reducing black carbon emissions has indeed been a priority for the Arctic Council in recent years, although the IMO left that out of the Polar Code when it was adopted in 2014. Some say organizations succumbed to pressure from countries who favour the use of HFO.

“Despite some positive steps taken by the IMO with the Polar Code, we believe that measures are desperately needed to reduce the environmental impacts from Arctic shipping and that a logical place to focus attention is vessel fuel quality,” read the letter.

“We ask for your leadership in bringing together Council Member States to recommend appropriate IMO action in the near term to this end.”

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