NEWS: Around the Arctic April 12, 2018 - 10:30 am

Pressure’s on UN shipping agency to embrace heavy fuel oil ban

Canada worries about impact of HFO ban on Arctic communities


The International Marine Organization, the United Nations agency responsible for shipping and the prevention of marine pollution, will take more steps towards cutting dirty, climate-warming emissions and fuel from commercial shipping.

Delegates from 173 states are now in London, eyeing an initial strategy that will set out the IMO’s future vision for international shipping, their goals for greenhouse gas emission reductions, and guiding principles.

Yesterday they also made progress on addressing the implementation of the 0.50-per-cent sulphur limit in fuel from 2020 on and measures to reduce risks the use of heavy fuel oil by ships in Arctic waters, where a spill of the sludgy fuel would be hard, if not impossible, to clean up.

The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee determined to look at a ban on HFO use and transport by ships in the Arctic, “on the basis of an assessment of the impacts” and “on an appropriate timescale,” media reports said.

Its members will meet again next February to prepare guidelines on ways to reduce the risks around HFO in the Arctic.

“If what is reported is correct, then it’s not a question of ‘if’ but rather ‘when’ a ban of on the carriage and use of HFO is put in place. With the Arctic facing growing risks from oil spills and black carbon impacts from ships burning HFO, an impact assessment is needed to inform but not delay progressing an Arctic ban. Finding a pathway to ban heavy fuel oil without burdening Arctic communities with the costs is what everyone wants to do,” Andrew Dumbrille, sustainable shipping specialist at World Wildlife Fund-Canada, told Nunatsiaq News today.

The Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organizations, which includes WWF, has lobbied the IMO to adopt tough measures before 2023, including an immediate ban on ships using HFO in the Arctic and a ban on carrying HFO in the Arctic by 2021.

On Tuesday, the Clean Arctic Alliance organized a side event at the IMO meeting, called the Climate Crisis: A Message from the Arctic, whose speakers included Sheila Watt-Cloutier, the Inuk environmental and human rights advocate.

Watt-Cloutier urged the delegates to look beyond the economic impact of banning HFO.

“We are constantly reminded how taking action on greenhouse gas emissions will negatively impact our economy,” Watt-Cloutier said. “I understand this same lame excuse which is a very outdated card to play at this stage with our climate crisis, I would say do not play this card when it comes to banning heavy fuel oil which has potential to create extreme irreparable damage to our Arctic oceans … the oceans are the life force and source of life for us as Inuit of the Arctic.”

Other Arctic indigenous representatives are also in London to demand the creation of a consistent indigenous representation to the IMO, and also to explain why shipping issues related to climate change and environmental protection are important to Arctic communities.

A proposal on the table, co-sponsored by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United States, does call for a total ban on HFO.

But Canada, in its response to the proposal, has asked the IMO to look at “economic and other impacts to Arctic communities associated with the restriction or phase-out of heavy fuel in Arctic waters.”

Some say that even without an outright ban of HFO, the proposed lower-sulphur limits should curtail the fuel’s use. But others fear that shippers will instead shift to using cleaned-up, lower-sulphur HFO, rather than using more pricey, but cleaner distillate fuel.

However, Faig Abbasov with the European Federation for Transport and Environment, who also participated in Tuesday’s panel discussion, says that the price difference between that cleaned up-HFO and even cleaner distillate fuel is expected to be only three per cent.

That means the additional cost of banning HFO will be minimal, Abbasov said.

“This is a tiny speck that we’re asking the shipping industry to take. It’s not going to break the camel’s back,” he said, speaking to Nunatsiaq News from London.

Most vessels in the Canadian Arctic still run on HFO, and shipping companies in Nunavut have said if there is a cost to using cleaner fuel, clients will end up paying it.

The shipping industry generally rejects new regulations, Abbasov said.

“They see it in a chain reaction: if I agree to regulate this, you’re going to regulate that,” he said. “They’re right—this is a sector that has been under-regulated. They’ve managed to avoid public scrutiny and pressure.”

But the IMO has vowed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re cleaning up every sector, and everyone’s looking at shipping and it makes them uncomfortable with the subject of regulation,” Abbasov said.

Left unregulated, shipping could be responsible for 17 per cent of climate-warming carbon dioxide emissions by 2050, and continued use of HFO will produce more polluting emissions than other marine fuels.

“We’ll hopefully make an impact,” Abbasov said of the efforts to push for an HFO ban.