Iceland’s New Climate Action Plan: NGOs Call for Heavy Fuel Oil Ban in Icelandic Waters

HFO Free Arctic

Iceland’s New Climate Action Plan: NGOs Call for Heavy Fuel Oil Ban in Icelandic Waters

Reykjavík, 25 June 2020:- Responding to the Government of Iceland’s second Climate Action Plan, published on 23 June, the Clean Arctic Alliance and the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) urged the government to go further by making a commitment to eliminate the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) use and carriage within Iceland’s 200 nautical mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

“The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes the Icelandic government’s publication of its second Climate Action Plan, and in particular recent moves to reduce the levels of sulphur emitted by ships in Iceland’s 12 mile territorial waters to 0.1% – equivalent to an emission control area in the Baltic and North Seas and on the west and east coasts of north America,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“This recently implemented measure, while important for the health of Icelanders and the country’s environment, will not however contribute to a reduction in the impact of greenhouse gases and short-lived climate forcers such as black carbon. A comprehensive ban on the use and carriage of HFO in Iceland’s 200 nautical mile EEZ would be more effective”, added Prior.

The stated aim of Iceland’s new Climate Action Plan is to achieve a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, and potentially further reductions of between 5 – 11% as a consequence of additional measures still in development. The plan will involve the allocation of EUR 292 million (USD 330 million, ISK 46 billion) to climate-related measures between 2020 and 2024 – an almost seven-fold increase from the previous plan. The plan consists of 48 measures, of which 28 are already underway.

Black carbon is a short-lived climate forcer and a critical contributor to human-induced climate warming, especially in the Arctic. It has a much greater warming impact when shipping occurs near reflective snow and ice, such as in the Arctic, and also has a negative impact on human health. A HFO ban in the Arctic, and within the Icelandic 200 mile EEZ would not only lead to a reduction of black carbon emissions by up to 40%, but by moving to a lighter distillate fuel would allow the installation of efficient particulate filters which could reduce black carbon emissions by over 90%. A comprehensive ban would also reduce the risks of a HFO spill in Iceland’s water.

The international community, including the Arctic Council and the Nordic Council have called for urgent action against short lived climate forcers such as black carbon. Currently, Iceland serves as chair of the Arctic Council. A ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel in Arctic waters is under consideration at the International Maritime Organization (see notes), but is so weak that the Clean Arctic Alliance believes that very few ships would be required to stop using HFO when it takes effect, and that the volumes of HFO used and carried in the Arctic could increase even after the ban comes into effect. Iceland’s waters are not included within the boundaries of the Arctic HFO ban but are adjacent to the waters defined by the IMO’s Polar Code as Arctic waters.

Arni Finnsson of the Iceland Nature Conservation Association (INCA) – a member of the Clean Arctic Alliance – said that “The Icelandic Government must go even further than the ambitions of this Climate Action Plan by making a commitment to eliminate HFO use and carriage in Icelandic waters, and undertake to seek regulation through the International Maritime Organization to ensure that such a ban can be implemented through out Iceland’s EEZ.”



Árni Finnsson, Iceland Nature and Conservation Association, [email protected], +354 551 2279

Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, Clean Arctic Alliance [email protected], +34 691 826 764


New Climate Action Plan – Iceland will fulfil its commitments and more


About Heavy Fuel Oil:

Already banned for nearly a decade in Antarctica and in some of the waters around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, heavy fuel oil is a viscous and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans – accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO. If HFO is spilled in cold polar waters, it is likely to break down very slowly, and prove almost impossible to clean up.

A HFO spill would have long-term devastating effects on Arctic indigenous communities, livelihoods and the marine ecosystems they depend upon. As sea ice melts and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state-flagged vessels running on HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times, greatly increasing the risks of HFO spills. Already four of the top five flags, based on volume of HFO on board as fuel, originate from outside of the Arctic region – Panama, Marshall Islands, Liberia, and Singapore – with Russia the Arctic nation.

Burning HFO produces black carbon particles which are emitted in the exhaust fumes. When they fall on snow, on glacier ice and sea ice, the reflectivity (albedo) is reduced and the absorption of heat increases. More Arctic shipping using HFO will lead to increased black carbon emissions, fueling an already accelerating feedback loop.

The threat from oil spills on Arctic ecosystems and livelihoods is real, as are the impacts of climate change on the Arctic, and the knock-on effects of those impacts on the rest of the planet. The Arctic is under pressure – climate change is fuelling temperature rises double the rate of further south. In early March 2020, it was reported that ice loss from the ice caps of Greenland and the Antarctic are “tracking the worst-case scenario”, losing ice six times faster than in the 1990s. In 2019, in just two months, the loss of 600 billion tonnes of ice from Greenland raised global sea level by 2.2mm.


PPR 7: The Draft HFO Ban: 

An initial examination by the Clean Arctic Alliance of the draft regulation by the Clean Arctic Alliance suggests, based on current Arctic shipping levels, that the loopholes mean over three-quarters of the HFO currently used in the Arctic could be exempt or delayed from implementing the regulation, which equates to more than two-thirds of the HFO carried on board vessels as fuel.

Of further concern is that these loopholes will cause an increase in HFO use and carriage in the Arctic. HFO use is already on the increase– between 2015 and 2017 there was a 30% increase in the numbers of ships operating on HFO and a 55% increase in the amount of black carbon emitted from the use of HFO – and this is likely to carry on rising [1]. In addition, the loopholes will mean that as older ships (required to implement the regulation in 2024) are replaced with new ships with double-hulls or protected fuel tanks (not covered by the regulation until 2029), so the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic, along with black carbon emissions will increase.


About the Clean Arctic Alliance

The following not-for-profit organisations form the Clean Arctic Alliance, which is committed to a ban on HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic:

90 North Unit, Alaska Wilderness League, Bellona, Clean Air Task Force, Green Transition Denmark, Ecology and Development Foundation ECODES, Environmental Investigation Agency, European Climate Foundation, Friends of the Earth US, Greenpeace, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Stand.Earth, Transport & Environment and WWF.

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