Progress on Banning Dirty Fuel in Arctic Shipping

…and stalled negotiations on vessel emissions

I’ve just returned from London where the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations’ body that regulates world shipping, took another positive step toward banning vessels from using or carrying heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic. Work to hammer out details of the ban will begin in February 2019, after being approved late October by the IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC). Heavy fuel oil is not only the world’s dirtiest fuel but the type most often used by large ships.

This builds on progress made earlier this year when the United States, along with several other nations, proposed an Arctic HFO ban as the simplest approach to reducing the risks. Support for this has increased since the 2009 Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment (AMSA) identified that the greatest threat to the Arctic is from shipping-related oil spills. Using distillates as fuel instead of HFO would significantly reduce the risk of spills, according to a report published by the Arctic Council.

On the other hand, work by the MEPC to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships was not as successful. In April 2018, the IMO committed to reduce carbon emissions from the shipping sector by at least 50 percent by 2050, and to implement immediate measures to reduce emissions before 2023. Last week, the committee delayed consideration of these immediate measures until May 2019. The inability of the committee to implement short-term immediate emissions reduction measures frustrated many nations, especially in light of the urgency expressed in the recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

While the IMO deliberates, some cities and countries are setting their own groundbreaking standards. For example, by 2026, the city of Bergen, a tourism hotspot in the western fjords of Norway, will require all cruise ships entering its port to use electric propulsion. Norway already bans the use of HFO in certain areas of Svalbard. One can only hope that such actions will inspire other cities and nations, as well as the IMO, to move quickly toward a cleaner future for the shipping sector.

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