IMO fails on Arctic black carbon, lives up to reputation for climate inaction, say NGOs

A week that opened with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres lambasting governments and industry for their climate inaction, and the IPCC’s Climate Mitigation report criticizing the poor climate governance of international shipping, is set to close with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) again failing to reduce the climate impacts on the Arctic from the black carbon emissions responsible for 20% of shipping’s climate impact, said the Clean Arctic Alliance on April 7. 

Ahead of the meeting of the IMO Pollution Prevention and Response sub-committee PPR 9, which ends on April 8, the Clean Arctic Alliance called on the IMO’s member states to slash the impact of black carbon emissions on the Arctic by developing a mandatory regulation requiring a switch to distillate or alternative cleaner fuels or methods of propulsion for vessels operating in or near Arctic water, and to start work to agree a fuel standard that would reduce black carbon from shipping globally. 

“The IMO has this week completely failed to take any significant steps or agree any action which would see significant reductions in black carbon emissions from shipping and its warming impact on the Arctic – despite our calls for immediate and deep emission cuts,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 20 non-profit organizations working to persuade governments to take action to protect the Arctic, its wildlife and its people. 

“Instead, and despite the urgent calls from the UN Secretary General, the IMO has wasted the past week agreeing to terms of reference that will result in the development of non-binding recommendatory guidance, without prioritization of actual measures that would guarantee black carbon emission reductions.

“During PPR 9, the IMO failed to reach agreement on even the simplest of mandatory measures – a switch to cleaner fuels for ships in the Arctic – which would have seen an immediate reduction in black carbon emissions of around 40%. The IMO’s Arctic nations must take the lead, by putting an end to its culture of prevarication and procrastination, by starting today to support and enforce the reduction of black carbon emissions from ships.”

“Climate scientists warn that we are already perilously close to tipping points that could lead to cascading and irreversible climate impacts. But, high‑emitting governments and corporations are not just turning a blind eye, they are adding fuel to the flames,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, during a speech to mark the publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III 6th Assessment Report on Climate Mitigation, on April 4. 

The IMO has delegated responsibility to individual countries to decide whether or not to act on the guidance. While increasing numbers of countries supported the need to regulate black carbon emissions, many countries argued that it is still too soon for mandatory measures – despite the IMO being tasked 11 years ago with identifying measures to reduce them. 

PPR 9 also considered guidance on how to operationalize ongoing scrubber pollution of the oceans – which allows the ongoing use of the heaviest, dirtiest fuels associated with high emissions of black carbon.

Prior concluded: “For too long, the IMO has been out of step with other UN agencies on climate change and is in effect acting as a rogue element within the UN system.

“The time for this nonsense is over – the IMO must face up to its responsibilities, putting its priorities in line with the UN on climate change, and use the collective political power and technological knowhow of the shipping industry to not only drastically limit shipping’s contribution to the global climate crisis but also to show leadership through decarbonization of the industry.” 

Photo credit: iStock/ 1971yes

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