As the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) closed  on 26 October in London, the Clean Arctic Alliance and indigenous groups welcomed the support given by member states to commence work on developing a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters.

Support for commencing work, to mitigate the risks of using and carrying HFO fuel in the Arctic which includes developing a ban, at the PPR6 technical meeting, in February 2019, was voiced by Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Poland, and the UK.

MEPC 73 considered impact assessment methodology ahead of sending the “Scope of Work”- which sets out the work to be done to reduce the risks associated with the “use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters”, including the proposal for a ban, to the on Pollution Prevention and Response subcommittee (PPR6) in February 2019.

I welcome the progress made this week by the International Maritime Organization to develop a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel in Arctic shipping – a ban that must be in place as soon as possible. Our Arctic communities, wildlife and ocean need it, as they are already stressed by climate change and increased shipping in the region. The world depends on and benefits from a healthy Arctic Ocean”, said Delbert Pungowiyi, President of the Native Village of Savoonga, Alaska.

“Arctic Indigenous organizations representing our people, such as the Inuit Circumpolar Council and Alaska Federation of Natives, have adopted a resolution calling for a ban on HFO in the Arctic, added George Edwardson, President of the Iñupiat community of the Arctic Slope and Board Member for Inuit Circumpolar Council – Alaska. “The international maritime community must do the responsible thing and listen to Arctic indigenous peoples who depend on a healthy Arctic marine environment”.

“The potential for heavy fuel oil spills and pollution threaten the smaller organisms of the Arctic and Bering Sea that sustain our fish, such as salmon, and marine mammals, and thus threaten us as a people, and our way of life”, said Verner Wilson, Senior Oceans Campaigner, Friends of the Earth US and member of the Curyung Tribal Council in Bristol Bay, Alaska. “IMO member state governments have banned HFO in Antarctic waters – now they have the responsibility to give the same protection to Arctic waters, on which our communities depend”.

“We’re pleased with progress made at MEPC this week, and the support given by several member states to ensure that work to develop a ban on use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by ships in Arctic waters will now commence early in 2019”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. “It is important that this work is concluded swiftly, so that the ban can be adopted in 2021, and phased in by 2023. We look forward to considering information from Arctic countries including Canada, United States, Greenland (Denmark), and Russia, on the potential social, economic and environmental impacts of a ban.”

During MEPC73, the Clean Arctic Alliance hosted or supported a number of events, including a Arctic Photo Exhibition: On Our Watch, introduced by Arctic explorer Pen Hadow, who address the IMO Chair during a plenary intervention:

“The Arctic is vulnerable and the risks associated with increased shipping activity urgently need to be addressed. The work of the International Maritime Organisation and many of the decisions that you, the delegates, will be making during MEPC this week on the use of Heavy Fuel Oil, on greenhouse gas emissions, and on marine plastic litter, are absolutely critical to the future protection of the Arctic Ocean’s wildlife”

Support for HFO Ban

At MEPC72 in April 2018, Arctic states of Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and the United States, along with Germany, the Netherlands and New Zealand, proposed a ban on the use and carriage as fuel of HFO by ships operating in the Arctic as the simplest approach to reducing the risks associated with HFO. The proposal, along with a proposal to assess the impact of such a ban on Arctic communities from Canada, was supported by Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland, Japan, the League of Arab States, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK leading to an agreement, in principle, to the ban. Support from Denmark was particularly notable as it is the sixth Arctic nation to support the ban. Support from non-Arctic countries was significant as many can and do flag ships operating in the Arctic.

Earlier in July, the Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka added further weight to the calls to end the use of HFO in the Arctic in the Utqiagvik Declaration. Last week, the Alaska Federation of Natives passed a resolution calling for a concerted effort to convince decision-makers to phase out the use of heavy fuel oil, or HFO, in Arctic waters.

Canada and Russia

Canada and Russia have both supported IMO work to consider ways to mitigate the risks associated with HFO, but Canada has yet to take a position on a ban.

Recent analysis by CE DELFT of the potential impact of a HFO ban on consumer goods found that additional costs of food shipped to Iqaluit in Northern Canada would increase household expenditure by 0.2%, assuming that the ban-related additional transport costs are fully passed on (although other newly published research has shown that there was no correlation between fuel costs and food prices in the same region between 2014 – 2017). The Clean Arctic Alliance calls on governments to consider how to mitigate any possible cost increase, however small, that could be experienced by Arctic communities.

To date, Russia has considered a ban on use of HFO in the Arctic as a “last resort”. However, one of the biggest users of HFO in the Arctic, Russian state-owned shipping company Sovcomflot has spoken openly about the need to move away from oil-based fuels, and marine bunker fuel supplier Gazpromneft expects to halt fuel oil use from 2025. Significantly, in August 2018, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Finnish President Sauli Niinisto made a joint statement on the need to move to cleaner ships’ fuels, such as LNG in the Arctic. Furthermore, Russia has also announced its intention to massively increase the volumes of cargoes transported on the Northern Sea Route – setting itself a target of 80 million tonnes by 2024, of which 40% would be LNG.

Support for a ban on the use and carriage of HFO has grown since the Arctic Council published its 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA), identifying that an oil spill is the greatest threat to the Arctic from shipping; according to Det Norske Veritas, in a report published by the Arctic Council, using distillates instead of HFO as fuel would achieve significant spill risk reduction. The Arctic Commitment, launched in 2017 by the Clean Arctic Alliance and Hurtigruten has been signed by more than 125 cruise operators, journalists, explorers, shipping companies, indigenous representatives and others, calling for a ban.