Clean Arctic Alliance calls on IMO to regulate HFO, black carbon

The Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA) is calling on IMO Member States to take measures against the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) and reduce black carbon emissions from shipping in the Arctic.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

Member States will be attending the IMO’s Pollution Prevention & Response sub-committee meeting from 17 to 21 February, 2020.  This meeting is dubbed “IMO Arctic Summit” due to its focus on impacts on the Arctic region from global shipping.

The CAA is advocating to 

  • strengthen the protection of the Arctic marine environment from the impacts of international shipping by agreeing to a new regulation banning the use and carriage of HFO as fuel by ships operating in Arctic waters as proposed by Denmark et al. 
  • require ships to immediately switch to distillate fuels while operating in Arctic waters, agree to the development of a global rule prohibiting fuels with high black carbon emissions, and support a Resolution calling on ship owners, charterers, fuel providers and other stakeholders to implement these measures on a voluntary basis while new regulations are developed and enter into force.

The CAA believes that the views of Indigenous groups and individuals should be taken into special consideration while developing the ban, and while strongly supporting efforts to finalize the amendments to MARPOL and the Polar Code to introduce a ban, the CAA does not support any provision allowing for a delay or exemption in implementing the ban. Delays and exemptions will only prolong the threat of an HFO spill in the Arctic.

Emissions of black carbon particles from ships burning heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters has a dramatic climate warming effect.  Black carbon, a harmful air pollutant, is considered to be the second leading cause of global warming after CO2. It is also harmful to human health. 

Black carbon is the product of incomplete combustion of organic fuels, and contributes from 7 to 21% of shipping’s climate warming impact. The largest sources are fossil fuel, biomass and biofuel combustion. Ships emit more black carbon per unit of fuel consumed than other combustion sources due to the quality of the fuel used. 

When emitted in the Arctic, black carbon particles fall on snow, on glacier ice and sea ice, reducing their reflectivity (albedo) and increasing the absorption of heat. As multi-season sea ice recedes due to climate change, Arctic waters will open up to increased shipping, which could lead to increased black carbon emissions, fueling an already accelerating feedback loop.

HFO is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout the seas and oceans, accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. 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.

In addition to its black carbon emissions, a spill of HFO in the Arctic would prove close to impossible to clean up.  HFO is a greater source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate fuel and 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.

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