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  • EU fails to press for Arctic ban on dirtiest shipping fuel

    The EU’s failure to push for a ban on the use by ships of heavy fuel oil (HFO), a toxic pollutant, when operating in the Arctic is a major cause of concern, a group of eight environmental NGOs[1] has said. However, they welcomed the European Commission’s focus on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies and on protecting the environment in its new Arctic strategy.

    Last month US president Barack Obama and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau pledged to address the risks posed to the Arctic by the use of HFO, which generates black carbon emissions that are widely recognised as the second most important agent of climate change after CO2. HFO also results in high emissions of air pollutants with serious effects on human health and, in the event of an oil spill arising from a shipping accident, is impossible to fully clean-up with catastrophic effects on extremely vulnerable Arctic habitats.

    On behalf of the group of environmental NGOs, Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Transport & Environment, said: “Following the move in the Antarctic, a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil by ships in the sensitive Arctic polar region would go a significant way to tackling environmental pollution there, help prevent the acceleration of global warming and reduce the impacts of spills in the event of a shipping accident. Europe must join international efforts to ensure that the use of this, the dirtiest of fuels, is banned from the region.”

    The groups also cited the Commission’s failure to call for a ban on dangerous Arctic oil and gas drilling, which has seen an increase in the wake of melting polar ice in the Arctic. However, they welcomed its support for the implementation of the Polar Code for shipping and the commitment to enhance the safety of navigation in the Arctic.

    A ban on the use of HFO in ships is not without precedent. The introduction of a new chapter to the IMO’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) banned HFO use by vessels in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic continent in 2011, and a further amendment to address a loophole on the carriage of HFO as ship ballast took effect last month.

    Note to editors:

    [1] The eight environmental NGOs calling for Arctic states and EU member states to support a rapid elimination of the use of HFO by ships in the Arctic are: Bellona Foundation, Environmental Investigation Agency, Friends of the Earth (US), Naturschutzbund Deutschland (NABU), Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Transport & Environment, and WWF.