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.
” 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.
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.
Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal
More on the subject: