Small step forward for Arctic heavy fuel ban but faster action needed

Progress is made in bringing the Arctic heavy fuel oil ban forward, but a faster timeline is needed as the regulation will only come into effect in 2029.

During the IMO Pollution Prevention and Response sub-committee meeting in Feb, progress is made in bringing the Arctic heavy fuel oil ban forward, but a faster timeline is needed as the regulation will only come into effect in 2029.  Lee Kok Leong, executive editor, Maritime Fairtrade, reports

Environment NGOs and Indigenous Groups cautiously acknowledged progress by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its Member States, in agreeing on a draft regulation on heavy fuel oil (HFO) use and carriage in the Arctic, but denounced the inclusion of loopholes in the text that mean the ban will not come into effect until 2029, leaving the Arctic exposed to the growing threat of HFO spills for close to another decade. 

The draft will be forwarded for approval to a meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee in October 2020.  It proposes that there will be no change in the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic before the middle of 2024 when the regulation takes effect.  In the meantime, a loophole in the text will allow Arctic countries to permit continued use of HFO by their vessels.  

A second loophole means that ships with double hulls or protected fuel tanks will also be able to carry and use HFO as fuel until 2029.  In addition, there was further delay on an action to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping that will affect the Arctic, despite the IMO and its Members working on this issue for nine years.

An initial examination of the draft regulation by the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organizations, suggests that based on current Arctic shipping levels, the loopholes mean over three-quarters of the HFO used in the Arctic could be exempt or delayed from implementing the regulation, which equates to more than two-thirds of the HFO carried on board vessels as fuel. 

Of further concern is that these loopholes will cause an increase in HFO use and carriage in the Arctic.  HFO use is already increasing, between 2015 and 2017 there was a 30 percent increase in the numbers of ships operating on HF0, and this is likely to carry on rising.  The loopholes will mean that as older ships (covered by the regulation) are replaced with new ships with double-hulls or protected fuel tanks (not covered by the regulation until 2029), so the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic will increase. 

The Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on IMO Member States to invest further effort to strengthen the implementation timelines and tighten or better still, remove the loopholes which delay the implementation of the draft regulation for double-hull and vessels with protected fuel tanks and which allow waivers.

“While the IMO has made some progress this week on controlling heavy fuel oil use and carriage as fuel in the Arctic, it is outrageous that Member States are prepared to accept another decade of threats from HFO spills to Arctic communities, the environment and wildlife,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.  

“With the climate crisis already having significant impacts across the Arctic region and routes opening up to increased ship traffic, IMO Member States must take a more ambitious stance later this year, by agreeing to rid the Arctic of HFO in 2024.” 

Image credit: Maksimilian /

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