IMO’s Arctic fuels decision attracts angry response from NGO’s

Environmentalist NGO The Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA) has slammed the decision by IMO to approve a ban which it says is ridden with of loopholes on the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic.


The ban was approved during the virtual MEPC 75 meeting despite widespread opposition from Indigenous groups, NGOs and in a statement release this week, the Catholic Church. At the IMO’s PPR 7 subcommittee meeting in February 2020, the IMO agreed on the draft before sending it to MEPC.

Following PPR7, the Clean Arctic Alliance called the inclusion of loopholes – in the form of exemptions and waivers – in the draft regulation “outrageous” as they mean a HFO ban would not come into effect until mid-2029. With the ban now scheduled to go forward for adoption at MEPC 76, the Clean Arctic Alliance – a coalition of 21 non-profit organisations, called for waivers to not be granted by Arctic coastal states and for the deadline beyond which exemptions would not apply to be brought forward.

“By taking the decision to storm ahead with the approval of this outrageous ban, the IMO and its member states must take collective responsibility for failing to put in place true protection of the Arctic, Indigenous communities and wildlife from the threat of heavy fuel oil”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance. “In its current form, the ban will achieve only a minimal reduction in HFO use and carriage by ships in the Arctic in mid-2024, when it comes into effect. It is now crucial that Arctic coastal states do not resort to issuing waivers to their flagged vessels”.

The CAA says that as Arctic heating drives sea ice melt and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state-flagged vessels running on HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. This, combined with an increase in Arctic state-flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, will greatly increase the risks of HFO spills in areas that are difficult to reach, and that lack any significant oil spill containment equipment.

According to recent analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation, as currently drafted, the regulation approved today will only reduce the use of HFO by 16% and the carriage of HFO as fuel by 30% when it takes effect in July 2024, and will allow 74% of Arctic shipping to continue with business as usual [3]. The analysis found that between July 2024 and July 2029, when the ban becomes fully effective, the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic is likely to increase as shipping in the Arctic increases, and as newer ships replace older vessels and are able to take advantage of the exemption or change flag and seek a waiver from the ban.

“The ban that the IMO has approved will mean that a full three-quarters of the ships using HFO today will be eligible for an exemption to the ban, because their fuel tanks are ‘protected’, or because they can apply to an Arctic coastal state for a waiver from the ban”, continued Prior. “As a result, the use of HFO in the Arctic is likely to continue to grow until the ban takes full effect in 2029 – so not only does the ban not sufficiently protect the Arctic, it’s actually contributing to a greater exposure to the risks associated with the use of heavy fuel oil.”

“The Clean Arctic Alliance urges IMO Member States to seriously consider how the ban can be strengthened ahead of formal adoption next year, and for individual states to examine domestic options for providing the protection required for the Arctic from the risks of HFO use and carriage, such as Norway’s recent proposal to ban HFO from the waters around Svalbard,” she added.

Under the new regulations, five central Arctic coastal States – Russia, Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Canada and the United States – will have the option of issuing waivers to their own flagged ships while they are operating in their own waters. The regulation is not flag-neutral, and it will create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement in the Arctic, along with lower standards and negative environmental consequences in the Arctic’s territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. This version of the ban could also potentially lead to transboundary pollution.


“All Arctic states need to eliminate the use of HFO by 2024 to ensure an HFO ban fulfils its original intent. The food security and livelihoods of local and Indigenous communities is dependent upon the success of this ban to protect them from pollution and spills. Any benefits of the IMO decision today will be cancelled out by projected increases in shipping, leaving Indigenous and local communities facing larger risks and impacts in the future,” said Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Sustainable Shipping Specialist at WWF Canada.

“The Arctic Council should build on the example of Norway’s proposal for Svalbard, assert its Arctic stewardship role, and scale up the ambition of the IMO ban within the jurisdictions of Arctic countries, without waivers and exemptions. Such commitment should be reflected in the Ministerial Declaration concluding the Icelandic chairmanship in May 2021”, said Peter Winsor, director of WWF’s Arctic Programme.

“A ‘ban’ that affects just a quarter of ships is not a ban at all”, said John Maggs, Senior Policy Advisor at Seas at Risk. “The IMO’s new regulation fails to treat all flags equally, allowing the five central Arctic coastal states to issue waivers that will allow all ships flying their flag to continue to use HFO out to the furthest stretches of their EEZs, thus rewarding their own-flagged vessels, while other ships must comply with the regulation. This is regardless of ship type, size, or age, or whether or not they have protected fuel tanks. We are also concerned that issuing waivers will relax international environmental standards in waters of the Arctic coastal States. The Law of the Sea Convention requires that flag states adopt regulations for the prevention, reduction, and control of pollution from ships flying their flags that must at least have the same effect as international standards. Because waivers would weaken the protection of the marine environment in these areas, it raises important legal questions”.

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