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The Verdict on the Arctic’s Heavy Fuel Oil Ban: Good, but Not Nearly Enough

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  • The Verdict on the Arctic’s Heavy Fuel Oil Ban: Good, but Not Nearly Enough

Heavy fuel oil (HFO), the world’s dirtiest and most toxic marine fuel, is the most commonly used shipping fuel in the Arctic. HFO is a by-product of the oil refining process and, if spilled, emulsifies on the ocean surface and is almost impossible to clean up. The costs of cleaning up an oil spill can quickly run into the millions of dollars. But now, thanks to many years of NGO and Indigenous community pressure at the international level, a ban on HFO for marine ships in Arctic waters finally began on July 1st, and will come into full effect in 2029.

Unfortunately, this new, current ban doesn’t go far enough. Most of the HFO being used and carried in Arctic waters will continue until 2029, due to considerable exemptions and waivers included in the ban. Research undertaken by the ICCT shows that the ban would potentially limit just 30% of HFO carriage and 16% of HFO use. Considering that the use and carriage of HFO has increased significantly since 2015 (up 75%), these numbers are concerning.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), who’s facilitating the ban, must also consider the consequences of the incomplete combustion of HFO, which occurs when it is burned with a limited supply of oxygen. It’s a major contributor of black carbon, a sooty particulate matter that sits on ice and snow, exacerbating global warming and increasing the rapid rate of ice melt in polar regions. This melting is a major concern for the safety and nutrition of Arctic communities and violates their fundamental human right to a safe and healthy environment. Furthermore, rapid melting can increase shipping by creating more usable routes. 

Finally, while refining the HFO ban would be welcome, so much more needs to be done to honor and safeguard the Arctic. Industry and member states of the IMO must be held accountable for how they fail to adequately regulate the shipping industry. Industries shouldn’t be able to hide behind the use of exemptions and waivers, and must switch to readily available cleaner fuels instead. 

Additionally, the IMO needs to update The Polar Code, an international shipping code adopted nearly a decade ago that doesn’t currently reflect the urgency and increasing threats to the region posed by the climate crisis. All polluting discharges (including black carbon) should be eliminated. 

In a pivotal testimony, Inuk activist Sheila-Watt Cloutier stated: “The Arctic is the health barometer of the world.” Given the crucial role the region plays in our global ecosystem, we must do everything in our power to protect it.

The post The Verdict on the Arctic’s Heavy Fuel Oil Ban: Good, but Not Nearly Enough appeared first on Friends of the Earth.

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