International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed to take steps that could lead to a phase-out of the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic shipping following an appeal from the Government of Canada, Indigenous participants and testimony from WWF-Canada.
During a week-long meeting at IMO headquarters in London, WWF highlighted recent reports outlining major gaps in spill response capacity in the Arctic.
The Canadian delegation’s submission on how to reduce the impacts of HFO in the Arctic received wide support from all Arctic states (United States, Russia, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark/Greenland) as well as several non-Arctic states. This is likely the first step towards phasing out the use of HFO in the Arctic entirely.
If spilled, HFO is almost impossible to clean up because of its thick, tar-like qualities. Recent research commissioned by WWF-Canada has shown that communities in Nunavut and the Beaufort region are woefully unprepared to respond to major spills along the Northwest Passage.
Its air emissions have high levels of soot, black carbon and particulate matter, which absorb sunlight and speed up the melting of sea ice; The dirty and destructive properties of HFO have already lead to bans in both the Antarctic, and in Norwegian Arctic waters.
Andrew Dumbrille, senior specialist, sustainable shipping for WWF-Canada says: “Today, the IMO took a step in the right direction, to protect the fragile Arctic ecosystem, and the communities that depend on it, from the dirtiest and most polluting ship fuel in the world. WWF-Canada hopes this process will move quickly towards a phase-out and eventual ban on the use of HFO in the Arctic, as it poses an unreasonable threat to both the environment and human health."
Andrew added: "As ship traffic increases in the Arctic, the risk of an environmentally devastating spill becomes more and more real. We have an opportunity now to end the use of this toxic substance while levels of ship traffic are still relatively low. In order to give industry time to adapt, WWF encourages the IMO to continue moving this agenda forward, and phase out the use of HFO in Arctic shipping by 2020.”
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