Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Arctic Countries Call for Regional Heavy Fuel Oil Ban at UN Shipping Talks

Melting sea ice is opening the Arctic up to increased maritime traffic, raising fears of toxic fuel spills and climate pollution.

With sea ice in retreat, the Arctic is opening up to shipping (Picture Credit: Patrick Kelley, US Coast Guard) Click to Enlarge.
Arctic countries and indigenous communities are calling for a ban on ships burning heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the region, extending a measure already imposed in Antarctica.

Advocates for the ban warn the risk of heavy fuel oil spills is increasing as melting sea ice, linked to climate change, is opening the sensitive environment to seaborne trade.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is discussing the issue this week, with a view to giving instructions to a technical committee that will begin work in early 2019.

“HFO represents the cheapest fuel that the global shipping industry could use if the Arctic were ice-free,” Austin Ahmasuk, an Alaskan from the Bering Straits nonprofit group Kawerak, Inc, said on the sidelines of the IMO meeting on Monday.  “The natural logical concern is that shipping is going to increase, there’s going to be an increase in HFO presence in the Arctic, and that represents a potential significant risk.”

The Bering Sea lost around half of its sea ice cover in two weeks in February, accentuating concerns about increased shipping in waters that used to be frozen, according to the Clean Arctic Alliance.  Three-quarters of Arctic summer sea ice has melted since the 1970s, and the remainder is expected to disappear before 2050, it added.

In Alaska, February sea ice levels were at their lowest in living memory, said Verner Wilson, an Alaskan working with Friends of the Earth International.
Heavy fuel oil accounts for around 80% of marine fuel used worldwide and 75% of the fuel carried in the Arctic, the campaigning network said.  More than half the ships crossing the Arctic seas are flagged in non-Arctic countries.

HFO emits more air pollutants such as sulphur oxide and black carbon than alternatives like distillate fuel and liquefied natural gas.  Black carbon acts as a global warming agent and when it settles on ice, it can make it reflect less sunlight and melt more quickly.

Green groups started pushing for a ban in the Arctic around the time the IMO negotiated the “Polar Code” to exclude the heavy fuel oil from Antarctica, which was adopted in 2014.  A group of seven countries, led by the US and Canada, put it on the organization’s agenda last July.

Read more at Arctic Countries Call for Regional Heavy Fuel Oil Ban at UN Shipping Talks

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