The EU’s failure to push for a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO), a toxic pollutant, by ships when operating in the Arctic is a major cause of concern, a group of eight environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have stated.
The NGOs, however, commended the European Commission’s focus on climate mitigation and adaptation strategies, and on protecting the environment in its new Arctic strategy.
In April, US President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to address the risks posed to the Arctic by the use of HFO, which generates black carbon emissions that are considered as the second most important agent of climate change after CO2.
HFO leads to high emissions of air pollutants and causes a serious impact on human health and, in the event of an oil spill arising from a shipping accident, it is not possible to completely clean-up, thereby leading to catastrophic effects on the vulnerable Arctic habitats.
On behalf of the group of environmental NGOs, Transport & Environment shipping director Bill Hemmings said: "Following the move in the Antarctic, a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil by ships in the sensitive Arctic polar region would go a significant way to tackling environmental pollution there, help prevent the acceleration of global warming and reduce the impacts of spills in the event of a shipping accident. Europe must join international efforts to ensure that the use of this, the dirtiest of fuels, is banned from the region."
The groups also noted that the European Commission has failed to call for a ban on dangerous Arctic oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.
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However, the groups welcomed its support for the implementation of the Polar Code for shipping and the commitment to enhance the safety of navigation in the Arctic.
IMO’s International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) banned HFO use by vessels in the Southern Ocean around the Antarctic continent in 2011, and a further amendment to address a loophole on the carriage of HFO as ship ballast became effective in April.