Planned HFO ban in the Arctic inefficient | Polarjournal
Freight transports across the Arctic Ocean is currently mainly carried out along the Russian coast between the Barents Sea and the Bering Sea. According to calculations, this shortens the trade route between Asia and Europe by a third. Image:

The melting Arctic ice increases interest in transports across the Arctic Ocean. But many of the cargo and passenger ships are powered by heavy fuel oil. The “Exxon Valdez” case more than 30 years ago clearly demonstrated what this substance in the event of an accident can cause in barely developed and ecologically sensitive regions . Therefore in 2018, the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) had decided to discuss measures for a ban on heavy fuel oil. Now the IMO has presented these measures. But environmental groups that have studied it criticize the catalogue as incomplete and ineffective.

An white paper by the International Council on Clean Transportation ICCT gave a very poor testimony to the IMO’s proposals. Dr Bryan Comer and three other scientists conclude that the proposals would have resulted in only a 30 percent drop HFO (Heavy Fuel Oil) carriage and only 16 percent in HFO use if the measures had been implemented last year. The transport of heavy fuel oil as a commercial commodity would not be affected by the ban. According to the scientists, the decline would only mean a 5 percent decrease in the quantities of “black carbon”. “Black Carbon” refers to the emissions of heavy oil, mostly soot. These emissions, together with other dust from the atmosphere, darken the snow and ice surfaces, resulting in greater melting.

The deposits of black carbon in the Arctic mainly originate from the combustion of fossil fuels in winter, followed by bushfires, according to a study by scientists (Winiger et al (2019) Sci Adva 5 (2) DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aau8052). This massively accelerates the melting of the Arctic ice. Photo: Climate & Clean Air Coalition

” An HFO ban with no exemptions or waivers is the most protective”

Dr Bryan Comer, International Council on Clean Transportation

The problem, as identified by the researchers, lies with proposed exemptions and the increasing use of HFO in the Arctic. Between 2015 and 2019, usage increased by 75 percent and companies continue to build new ships that will benefit from the IMO’s exemptions. In addition, the researchers write, the ships would sail under Arctic states flags, which in turn would lead to further exceptions to use, further undermining the ban. Compromise solutions would be possible in principle. “Doing away with exemptions and limiting waivers to internal waters (IW) and territorial seas (TS) would ban 70% of HFO carriage and 75% of HFO use, and would lower BC emissions by 22%,” the researchers write in their report. But this would massively increase environmental damage in the event of an oil spill directly on the coasts, with the corresponding consequences for people and the environment. For the study’s lead author, Dr Bryan Comer, it is clear that only a ban like the one in Antarctica is a real solution. “An HFO ban with no exemptions or waivers is the most protective,” the team writes in its information report. In Antarctica, a comprehensive ban on HFO beyond the 60th degrees South has been in force since 2011.

When the oil tanker “Exxon Valdez” hit a reef in Alaska back in 1989, 37,000 tons of crude oil flowed into the Prince William Sund and destroyed the ecosystem there sustainably. The damages to nature can still be seen today. Picture: US Coast Guard via

The outrage over the proposal is great among environmental associations throughout the Arctic states, as shown by an overview of the media. The IMO’s exemption provides that between 2024 and 209, double-walled vessels will still be allowed to use heavy fuel. In addition, ships flying the flag of an Arctic state and sailing within the 200-mile zone (EEZ) will also be exempt from the ban until 2029. According to Comer and his colleagues, of the current 700 ships, around three-quarters would continue to operate in the Arctic. Among the IMO members, Russia was the country most affected by a ban. Accordingly, the country had only made its commitment thanks to the current compromise solution. The proposals put forward by the ICCT to the IMO are unlikely to stand a chance with Russia. The US and Canada are also likely to follow the Russian example and reject such changes, partly because of higher costs for the local population. The IMO Committee for the Protection of the Marine Environment will meet virtually in November due to COVID and discuss the measures.

Many of the settlements and villages along the Arctic coasts can only be reached by boat to ensure supply. According to official statements, the cost of switching the partially old ships from HFO to diesel or similar fuels would have to be passed on to the population. Bild: Michael Wenger

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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