© Clive Tesar / WWF

IMO must close loopholes to stop world’s dirtiest fuel polluting Arctic waters

15 October 2020

Arctic Climate Change Pan-Arctic Shipping Communities Ocean

Ottawa, Canada – Huge loopholes in a proposed international shipping agreement means vulnerable marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of Arctic peoples will continue to be threatened by spills from heavy fuel oil (HFO). The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is expected to finalize a ban on HFO in Arctic waters next month, but the regulation is full of waivers and exemptions.

New research from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) shows that under the current text, only 16 per cent of HFO used by the shipping industry in the region will actually be banned by the regulation. IMO member states are currently finalizing the text for an Arctic HFO ban that will be voted on in next month’s meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

Andrew Dumbrille, sustainable shipping specialist, WWF-Canada said:

“Arctic sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate and that means more and more vessels will be travelling through the region. That increased traffic brings potential threats to marine life and ecosystems already under stress from a rapidly changing climate. Arctic states need to ensure the final agreement fulfils the original intent of the HFO ban and completely eliminate its use by 2024 to protect the food security and livelihoods of local and Indigenous communities from pollution and spills.”

Given the severe risks a heavy fuel oil spill poses to polar environments, the IMO has already banned its use and carriage in the Antarctic. HFO is a thick and polluting shipping fuel that is nearly impossible to clean up if spilled in cold and icy environments. Air emissions from HFO further accelerate the climate crisis when the high volumes of soot, particulate matter and black carbon fall on the surrounding ice and snow, absorbing sunlight and increasing melting.

Mark Lutes, senior advisor for global climate policy for WWF Climate & Energy said:

“There is still time to get this right. If the text is left as is, this will be a ban in name only. HFO is one of the world’s dirtiest fuels, producing higher levels of air and climate pollutants than any other marine fuel. Effectively banning HFO in the Arctic is an important step in the IMO fulfilling its commitment to a comprehensive greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy. The shipping industry must do its part in achieving a net-zero future.”

WWF calls on all Arctic states to lead further negotiations at the IMO to strengthen the current text of the HFO ban on use and carriage for use. States should be calling for the removal of any so-called waivers and exemptions which would delay a full ban, due to come into effect in 2024.

For further information:

Leanne Clare | Sr. Manager Communications, Arctic Programme | lclare@wwfcanada.org

Mandy Jean Woods | Global Communications Manager, WWF Climate & Energy | mwoods@wwfint.org