Will you make the Arctic Commitment?

Who Will Step up to the Arctic Commitment?

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On January 25th 2017, the Arctic Commitment was launched at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Norway. The Arctic Commitment is an initiative by the Clean Arctic Alliance and cruise ship operator Hurtigruten, and calls on businesses and organisations to step forward and call for a phase-out of polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping.

Following the Arctic Commitment launch, our goal is now to encourage a broad range of stakeholders to sign up to the Arctic Commitment, creating a groundswell of support for an IMO phase-out of HFO in Arctic shipping by 2020, and to urge shipping companies operating in the Arctic to switch from the use of HFO to cleaner fuels.

The Arctic is one of the few regions of the world that has remained largely untouched by large-scale industrial development. This largely pristine environment is nonetheless host to millions of people with rich, often ancient cultures as well as a great diversity of ecosystems and marine life. The Arctic is also of major global importance due to its crucial role in regulating world weather patterns and ocean currents.

However, climate change poses significant challenges to this vulnerable environment due to the rapid melting of Arctic sea ice. These changes lead to the prospect of considerable growth in Arctic marine traffic as new sea routes become gradually accessible.

Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) is, by volume, the most commonly used shipping fuel in the Arctic and the Arctic Council has categorised its use as one of the most significant threats to the Arctic environment. HFO is an extremely viscous and toxic fuel and the potential for an HFO spillage poses a major risk to Arctic marine ecosystems and to the communities that depend upon these. The combustion of HFO produces high levels of air pollutants, including black carbon, that are harmful to human health and act as powerful regional climate change accelerators.

In recognition of the serious impacts and associated risks of HFO use in polar regions, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has already amended the MARPOL Convention to ban the use and carriage of heavy grade oils by ships in the Antarctic.

It is imperative that we acknowledge the grave risks to the Arctic environment and beyond and call for mitigation measures, including a phase-out of HFO use for Arctic shipping.


CALL UPON the international community to acknowledge the importance and vulnerability of the Arctic region and to pledge to protect this unique environment;

ACKNOWLEDGING the uniqueness of the Arctic region; the diversity of its ecosystems and the richness of its peoples’ cultures;

RECOGNISING that development needs to take place at a pace and on a scale that is supportable by the fragile and changing Arctic ecosystems;

UNDERSTANDING the Arctic’s important role in the regulation of the global climate, notably its role in helping to maintain stable global temperatures;

NOTING WITH CONCERN the rapid melting of the Arctic sea ice and the alarming projected rise in global sea levels;

AWARE OF the particular vulnerability of the Arctic environment; its peoples, wildlife and ecosystems, to the effects of climate change, particularly the melting of polar ice;

NOTING the rapid expected growth of ship traffic in the Arctic region and that most of the fuel carried by vessels in the Arctic is heavy fuel oil;

RECOGNISING the harmful impact of heavy fuel oil combustion on the Arctic environment, resulting in particularly high emissions of particulate matter, including black carbon, which accelerates the warming of the Arctic and the melting of ice;

ALSO RECOGNISING the harmful impact of heavy fuel oil combustion upon human, animal and plant life in the Arctic regions due to the high emissions of sulphur and nitrogen oxide, sulphates and other harmful forms of pollution;

UNDERLINING the considerable operational risks inherent in Arctic maritime navigation and, with these, a heightened risk of environmentally disastrous HFO spills;

ACKNOWLEDGING the potentially grave consequences for Arctic marine ecosystems in the event of a heavy fuel oil spill due to its high viscosity making it virtually impossible to clean up in the cold, ice infested and often inaccessible waters of the Arctic, with potentially disastrous consequences for Arctic marine wildlife, ecosystems and communities;

RECALLING that the Polar Code encourages ships not to use or carry heavy fuel oil in the Arctic

AGREEING that a switch from the use of heavy fuel oil to cleaner fuel types by ships and the application of adequate emission reduction technology would significantly advance the objective of protecting the Arctic marine environment;

CALL FOR a phase-out of the use of heavy fuel oil by ships in a timely manner and URGE International Maritime Organization Member States and stakeholders to advance this goal.

Download a pdf of the Arctic Commitment text.

Download  a pdf of the Arctic Commitment leaflet.

Watch signing of Arctic Commitment by Hurtigruten’s Daniel Skjeldam and Clean Arctic Alliance’s Sian Prior »

Watch full “No to HFO” event & Arctic Commitment signing at Arctic Frontiers in Tromsø »

Current signatories:

We invite your organisation to also become part of this historic commitment, which aims to protect Arctic communities and ecosystems from the risks posed by the use of heavy fuel oil as marine fuel. To sign the Arctic Commitment, please contact Arctic.Commitment@HFOFreeArctic.org

What is the Arctic Commitment?
The Arctic Commitment is a demonstration of the growing support for a phase-out of heavy fuel oil (HFO) use in Arctic shipping. By signing the Arctic Commitment signatories demonstrate to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is the appropriate international body to regulate the use and carriage of HFO, support for a legally binding instrument to phase out the use of HFO as marine fuel in Arctic waters by 2020.
Why should we support the Arctic Commitment?
The Arctic is warming at an accelerating rate and as sea ice continues to melt away, Arctic waters are becoming increasingly navigable to vessels carrying heavy fuel oil (HFO). HFO, which is one of the world’s dirtiest fuels, is not only virtually impossible to clean up in the event of a spill, but also produces higher levels of air and climate pollutants than other marine fuels. Given the severe risks that HFO poses to polar environments, the international shipping community has already banned its use in the Antarctic. It is now time to provide the Arctic, an ecosystem that is equally vulnerable to disturbance and pollution, with similar protection.
We do not have any activity in the Arctic. Why should we sign the Arctic Commitment?
We are seeking support from a wide range of bodies with a current interest or potential future interest in the Arctic. Even if your company does not currently have shipping activity in the Arctic, there is a possibility that your goods or vessels could take advantage of this route in the near future given that the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is 40% shorter than the Suez alternative.
Isn’t it better to focus on emission standards overall instead of banning a certain fuel?
Reducing all emissions is important, however, a ban on the use of HFO is a step in the right direction. By banning the use of HFO as marine fuel, not only will atmospheric emissions in the Arctic be reduced, but it would also make it possible to require ships to use particulate filters to further lower emissions of black carbon.
Why is there no reference in the Arctic Commitment to the 0.5% Sulphur 2020 decision, as this will significantly reduce BC in the Arctic?
The Arctic Commitment focuses on both the risks associated with emissions and with spills resulting from the use of HFO. A cap on the amount of sulphur permitted in fuel oil has already been addressed by the IMO and will take effect from 2020. The 0.5% sulphur cap is likely to result in less HFO used in the Arctic but it will not eliminate HFO as a fuel source. While the risks associated with emissions will be reduced, they will not be eliminated and neither will the spill risks.
Why don’t you call for an Emissions Control Area (ECA) rather than a ban on HFO?
While an Arctic Emissions Control Area (ECA) would reduce emissions from shipping in the region, it would not eliminate the risk of an HFO spill. Vessels are able to comply with an ECA through the installation of scrubbers without having to switch to cleaner fuels. Indeed, the experience from the North American ECA has shown that HFO was not completely eliminated from these waters. In order to protect the sensitive Arctic environment, it is imperative to avoid any potential HFO spill, which would have disastrous consequences for the marine ecosystem and its people. This level of protection can only be achieved through a ban on HFO.
What percentage of black carbon emissions in the Arctic are attributable to the shipping sector?
Although it is difficult to determine the exact percentage of black carbon emissions attributable to the shipping sector in the Arctic, there is recent evidence that transportation-related black carbon emissions are more substantial than previously estimated. In fact, a recent study determined that 38 percent of the total black carbon levels in the northeastern Siberian Arctic could be attributed to the transport sector, which includes the shipping sector. North of 70° latitude BC emissions mostly originate from shipping. It should also be noted that it is important to not only consider the percentage of black carbon emissions from individual sources, but also the location of the emissions. For example, black carbon emissions from ships traveling through or near to Arctic sea ice are likely to have a greater effect per unit of emission than those from land-based sources. This is because when black carbon is deposited on light-coloured surfaces, such as Arctic snow and ice, it reduces the amount of sunlight reflected back into space. This process results in the retention of heat and ultimately contributes to accelerated melting of Arctic snow and ice.
How many ships use heavy fuel oil in the Arctic?
Although there are fewer ships operating on HFO than distillate in the Arctic, as defined by the International Maritime Organization, the quantity of fuel on board ships is dominated by HFO at a ratio of more than 3:1. For example, in 2015, a total of 2086 ships travelled in the IMO Arctic, carrying 835,000 metric tons of HFO and 255,000 metric tons of distillate in their main bunker fuel tanks. Although only 44% of the IMO Arctic fleet (925 ships) operated on HFO, these ships carried 76% of the mass of bunker fuel on board ships in the Arctic. In addition, in 2015, 41% of the ships operating in the U.S. Arctic operated on HFO (73 out of 180 ships), but carried 77% of the mass of bunker fuel on board ships in that same area.