NGOs urge IMO to reduce Arctic black carbon by switching to clean fuels

As this week’s virtual meeting of the IMO’s Pollution Prevention and Response Sub-Committee (PPR 8, 22-26 March) opens, NGOs are calling on the IMO to seize the chance to immediately reduce climate-warming emissions of black carbon from ships currently using heavy fuel oil in the Arctic by some 44%, by switching them to cleaner distillate fuels. 

“This week the IMO has the opportunity put in place rapid and effective regulations to protect the Arctic and the global climate from the warming impacts of black carbon emissions, by obliging vessels operating in the Arctic to switch to cleaner shipping fuels,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, an international coalition of 21 non-profit organizations. 

IMO should regulate switch to distillate fuels

“Mandating a switch of fuels in order to cut black carbon emissions in the Arctic would be an easily-won victory for both the IMO and the shipping industry, and put the sector on course towards decarbonization. 

“Most importantly, getting black carbon out of the Arctic would also be a win for the climate, for the Arctic and the people who depend on its ecosystem for their livelihoods. 

“The IMO has been wrestling with what to do with regard to black carbon for over a decade now – but so far has taken no concrete action has been to reduce emissions. This week, with black carbon on the agenda, IMO Member States have the chance to take rapid and effective action to cut the emissions of black carbon in the Arctic.

“At PPR 8, the IMO should put in place regulations to ensure the shipping industry switches to distillate fuels, such as diesel or marine gas oil (MGO), or other cleaner energy sources, for vessels operating in or near the Arctic. 

“In addition, vessels using diesel or MGO should also be required to install and use particulate filters, as are already required by land-based transport. Such a move could be led by the shipping industry – an act which would bolster confidence that the sector is serious about staying the course towards decarbonization. 

“The bunker industry, which supplies fuel for shipping, has indicated that it can meet the necessary demand for alternative fuels to support a migration away from using heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. Ultimately, international regulation by the IMO will also be needed to eliminate emissions of black carbon from shipping, worldwide.”

Humanity cannot stand idly by

“Indigenous Arctic communities are extremely concerned about the profound climate changes we are experiencing on the ground”, said Austin Ahmusak, Kawerak Marine Advocate, Nome, Alaska. 

“The Arctic is warming as a result of human-induced changes to the atmospheric carbon cycle, and has already had an impact on the rich biological diversity Arctic peoples have enjoyed for thousands of years.

“It is important that humanity does not stand idly by and accept the current status quo with respect to greenhouse gas emissions, as well as black carbon. Black carbon is just one issue that Arctic Indigenous people need the global community to address. 

“Reducing black carbon from all sources, including shipping is essential – to help to save Arctic species, ensure Indigenous community health, and to prove that humans are worthy stewards of the globe. We call on the whole world to dramatically reduce its black carbon footprint, and the IMO can lead on this by cutting black carbon from Arctic shipping.” 

Climate change is having a more rapid impact in the Arctic than anywhere else right now – the recent cold weather that blanketed North America and Europe, and caused chaos in places like Texas, has been linked to the consequences of a warming Arctic. 

The polar vortex, a low-pressure area that spins over the pole during winter, is reportedly being interfered with by strong winds that encircle the planet, the jet stream, which is itself being shifted as a consequence of Arctic warming. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic. Changes taking place in the north will have repercussions further south.

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