overview

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 heavy fuel oil 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.

Marine fuels are classified by their viscosity. Pictured are a low-sulfur distillate (left, low viscosity) and a high-sulfur residual fuel oil (right, high viscosity). Credit: Asia Weekly

Risks of Heavy Fuel Oil use in the Arctic

Threat to Arctic

Heavy fuel oil (HFO) is an extremely viscous marine fuel that breaks down slowly in the marine environment, particularly in colder regions like the Arctic.

Unmanageable spill

In the event of a heavy fuel oil spill, lack of infrastructure, uncharted waters, severe weather conditions and navigational hazards such as sea ice, make spill response efforts nearly impossible.

Risk to indigenous residents

HFO spills pose a severe risk to many indigenous residents of the Arctic region that depend on marine resources for their nutritional, cultural, and economic needs.

Harmful pollutants

HFO produces higher emissions of harmful pollutants like sulphur oxide, nitrogen oxides, and black carbon, all of which have been linked to an increased risk of heart and lung disease and premature death. Switching from HFO to low-sulphur distillate fuel would reduce black carbon emissions by 30%-80%.

Accelerated warming

Black carbon has a potent climate warming effect when emitted at high latitudes. The warming impact is increased by at least a factor of 3 in the Arctic region as compared to emissions over the open ocean. This is because in the atmosphere, the black carbon particles absorb incoming radiation from above, as well as reflected radiation from below – doubling the warming impact.

Self-reinforcing warming cycle

When black carbon particles fall onto the Arctic snow and ice, radiation scattered from the snow and ice hits the deposited black carbon particles and causes further warming, plus the amount of sunlight reflected back into space is reduced. Snow and ice melt is accelerated increasing the surface area of exposed, dark ocean water, and promoting a self-reinforcing cycle of human-induced climate warming.

The Arctic Commitment

Who Will Step up to the Arctic Commitment?
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.
Add your voice to the Arctic Commitment »

Arctic Voices Demand Global Action to Protect Arctic From Impacts of Shipping Emissions

International Shipping emissions contribute to global climate heating and Arctic sea ice meltingArctic Voices Demand Global Action to Protect Arctic From Impacts of Shipping Emissions

10 June 2021: As a meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee opens today (MEPC 76), IMO member states were called on to take urgent and immediate action to protect the Arctic from the impacts of shipping emissions and pollution.

“I would like to stress the need for urgent action to reduce shipping’s climate warming impacts on the Arctic”, said Austin Ahmusak, Kawerak Marine Advocate, from Nome, Alaska during an address to the IMO
Read more »

Webinar video: The Arctic Ocean – the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Webinar video: The Arctic Ocean - the Canary in the Coal Mine?
World Ocean Day Webinar: The Arctic Ocean – the Canary in the Coal Mine?

An online event to mark World Ocean Day on June 8, 2021, ahead of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 76th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting (June 10-17).

check out the recording now 

 

Climate Home News: How the shipping industry can halve climate-warming black carbon in the Arctic

Climate Home News: How the shipping industry can halve climate-warming black carbon in the Arctic

The Clean Arctic Alliance believes that by mandating a switch of fuels, the IMO – and the shipping sector – could win an easy victory by achieving a major cut of black carbon emissions in the Arctic. It would also be a win for the global climate, for the Arctic and the people who depend on its ecosystem for their livelihoods.
Read more »

Infographic: International Shipping emissions contribute to global climate heating and Arctic sea ice melting

Infographics: How Black Carbon Emissions from Shipping Impact The Arctic


How Black Carbon Emissions from Shipping Impact The Arctic
A series of six infographics highlighting the problem and threats posed by black carbon from emissions from shipping, with emphasis on the Arctic. Find out why the effects of black carbon (BC) have more in the Arctic, the health implications for communities, why black carbon is increasing, and what actions are available to reduce BC emissions from shipping.
See full series »

Solutions

HFO is currently used for two discrete purposes in the Arctic. First, HFO is used as marine fuel for ships traveling through Arctic waters. Second, some Arctic communities use HFO to heat their homes and power equipment. Given these two distinct uses, any effort to mitigate the risks posed by the use of HFO in the Arctic must be accomplished through two separate approaches:

 

Addressing the risks posed by HFO as shipping fuel

Banningthe use and carriage of HFO for fuel in Arctic waters is the most direct mechanism for mitigating the numerous consequences of an HFO spill and reducing harmful emissions in the Arctic region. For example, switching from HFO to an alternative fuel, such as low-sulphur distillate fuel, is expected to reduce BC emissions by an average of 30 percent.

Addressing the risks associated with the carriage of HFO as cargo

In recognition of the dependence of some Arctic communities on HFO for household use, the Clean Arctic Alliance is not currently focused on the carriage of HFO as cargo. However, in order to address the risk of an HFO spill in Arctic waters, the carriage of HFO as cargo must be considered at a future time. 

Banning the use and carriage of HFO for marine fuel is the most effective mitigation strategy and is a priority at this time. Accordingly, the International Maritime Organization, which is the appropriate international body to regulate the use and carriage of HFO, must adopt a legally binding instrument to ban the use of HFO as marine fuel in Arctic waters by 2020.