NGOs and Indigenous groups have cautiously acknowledged progress by 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 new regulation for HFO use and carriage was agreed during PPR7. The draft will be forwarded for approval to a meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee in October 2020 (MEPC 76).
“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, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations. “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.”
The draft HFO regulation 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. This means that the Arctic will not be HFO free until July 2029.
Lobby groups claim that 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.
The Clean Arctic Alliance suggests, 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. It is also concerned that HFO use in the Arctic will increase due to more traffic and older ships being replaced by newer vessels with protected bunker tanks. It has called on IMO Member States to invest further effort to strengthen the implementation timelines and tighten or remove the loopholes.
“IMO Member States must now step up to their obligations to pursue additional safeguards; if HFO continues to be burned in the Arctic until June 2029, Arctic coastal communities will be subjected to the risk of HFO spills and higher levels of air pollution - so it is in the best interest of Arctic States to be expedient in phasing out HFO in both domestic and international Arctic waters sooner,” added Prior. “In the coming months, the IMO and its member states will be considering measures requiring ships to switch away from HFO and move to distillate or other cleaner fuels”.