Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic October 31, 2016 - 10:00 am

International marine org moves on key Arctic shipping issues

IMO to cap heavy fuel oil sulfur content, consider Arctic HFO phase-out

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Black exhaust from HFO floats up into the air from an icebreaker off the coast of Baffin Island. The exhaust, filled with black particles, contributes to warming on the land while its pollutants also affect human health. (FILE PHOTO)
Black exhaust from HFO floats up into the air from an icebreaker off the coast of Baffin Island. The exhaust, filled with black particles, contributes to warming on the land while its pollutants also affect human health. (FILE PHOTO)

Heavy fuel oil, the nasty, climate-warming polluting oil used in Arctic shipping may be phased out in the region by 2020.

That’s the promising news from International Maritime Organization, the United Nations agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution, in London, after hearing from Arctic Indigenous representatives on the need to ban heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

Following a meeting of its environmental protection committee last week in London, the IMO said it plans to start work on a phase-out of Heavy Fuel Oil, or HFO, in the Arctic.

The Environmental Investigation Agency, a member of the Clean Arctic Alliance, welcomed the progress made at the IMO meeting.

“By recognizing the threats posed by spills and black carbon [soot] 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,” the group’s senior policy analyst, Danielle Fest Gabriel, said in the Maritime Executive.

“Getting HFO out of the Arctic will protect human health, coastal communities, and Arctic wildlife like the beluga whale.”

The IMO kept to the implementation date 2020 for imposing a global 5,000-parts-per-million cap in HTO for sulfur—a pollutant that can lead to many harmful health effects.

However, the reduction will not eliminate the use of HFO in the Arctic, and a phase-out remains the most desirable way forward, the Clean Air Alliance maintains.

The IMO also said it has reached an important milestone on the road to controlling greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.

Under the IMO new requirements, ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above will have to collect consumption data for each type of fuel oil they use, as well as other data.

This will help inform the IMO plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships—a climate-warming source not included in the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

The IMO said it will hold additional working group meetings on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

But the IMO’s plan to cut emissions is not likely to be implemented before 2023.

To turn the IMO’s attention to the Arctic in 2016, a panel of Arctic Indigenous speakers from Russia, the United Stations. and Canada, brought to London by the Clean Arctic Alliance, spoke Oct. 26 at an IMO event called “Arctic Voice.”

Speakers included Eduard Zdor of the Russian Association of Traditional Marine Mammal Hunters of Chukotka, Hans Lennie of the Inuvik Hunters and Trappers Committee and the Inuvialuit Game Council, and former Nunavut politician Tagak Curley.

They outlined the benefits and threats posed by shipping to the Arctic along with the need to limit oil spill damage risk and soot emissions, by banning HFO.

The IMO’s Polar Code on the protection of polar waters, which comes into force in 2017, only says “ships are encouraged not to use or carry heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.”

HFO is already banned throughout Antarctica, as well as in the national park waters around the Norwegian Arctic archipelago of Svalbard.

Much of the soot generated from exhaust from slow-burning heavy ship fuel oil and other sources has a powerful impact in the Arctic, where its black particles, which soak up and magnify heat, are believed to be responsible for at least 30 per cent of warming in the Arctic.

Research has shown that reducing soot emissions could cool down the Arctic faster and more economically than any other quick fix.

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