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Friends of the Earth welcomes IMO action on Arctic heavy fuel oil risk

Posted Jul. 7, 2017 / Posted by: Audrey Fox

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71) concluded  today, Friends of the Earth and the Clean Arctic Alliance welcomed the support from Member States for a proposal to identify measures which will mitigate the risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters, and called on the IMO to work towards a swift conclusion of the work.[1]

The proposal, Measures to Reduce Risks of Use and Carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil as Fuel by Ships in Arctic Waters was proposed by Canada, Finland, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway and the US, and supported this week by the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Poland, Singapore, Spain and Sweden. Concrete proposals for measures to reduce the risks of HFO will now be considered by MEPC 72 in April 2018.[2]

“This week’s decisions at the IMO shows that the international community is moving closer to getting rid of filthy heavy fuel oil use by shipping in the Arctic,” said John Kaltenstein, Senior Policy Advisor, Friends of the Earth U.S. “Phasing out the use of this fuel will help protect pristine Arctic marine ecosystems and better safeguard indigenous subsistence practices, which have been taking place in the region for millennia.” Friends of the Earth is a member of the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of international non-governmental organizations working for an Arctic phase-out of HFO.

“The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes the recognition by IMO Member States of the risks posed by an HFO spill to local indigenous communities and to the environment, and the broad support from members towards providing the protection required in vulnerable Arctic waters," said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. “With the Arctic warming at an unprecedented rate, it is imperative that the IMO starts work on developing new measures, including a ban on HFO use in the region, without delay.”

“A ban on the use of HFO and carriage of HFO as fuel is the simplest and easiest measure to enforce which will provide the best protection for the Arctic. “A ban on the use of HFO and carriage of HFO as fuel is the simplest and easiest measure to enforce which will provide the best protection for the Arctic. While this might seem ambitious, a ban can be adopted in 2020, and come into effect 18 months after adoption,” added Prior.

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans. 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.

But as sea ice melts and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state flagged vessels fuelled by HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. Combined with an increase in Arctic state flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, this will greatly increase the risks of HFO spills.

Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in the colder waters of the Arctic, it breaks down slowly, with long-term devastating effects on both livelihoods and ecosystems. HFO is also a higher source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate fuel and liquid 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.[3]

Expert contacts: Marcie Keever, (510) 900-3144, mkeever@foe.org;
John Kaltenstein, jkaltenstein@foe.org
Communications contact: Erin Jensen, (202) 222-0722, ejensen@foe.org

[1] MEPC 71 took place at the International Maritime Organization, London, From July 3-7, 2017. http://www.imo.org/en/MediaCentre/MeetingSummaries/Pages/Default.aspx

[2] The Canadian proposal, MEPC 71/14/4 Measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters, was discussed during MEPC 71 on Thursday 6th July. There was consensus that the proposed new work was urgent and should be added to the 2018 - 2019 work programme of MEPC. MEPC 72 will consider concrete proposals for measures in April 2018. Once consensus is achieved on the appropriate measures, they will be adopted.

[3] Infographic: Responding to Arctic Shipping Oil Spills: Risks and Challenges http://www.hfofreearctic.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Infographic-Spill-response_double-page.pdf

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