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IMO Takes Major Step Towards Ending Dirty Fuel Use in the Arctic

IMO Takes Major Step Towards Ending Dirty Fuel Use in the Arctic

Washington, D.C - Today the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed to develop a ban, on an appropriate timescale, on the use and carriage for use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic. The Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) hails this critical step towards protecting Arctic species like the beluga whale from a catastrophic HFO spill.

A ban on HFO was proposed by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US, and was supported by the majority of delegations during an often passionate debate this week on the impacts the shipping industry has had on the Arctic and global climate. After considering several proposals, including one by Canada urging consideration of possible impacts on local community prices, the IMO agreed to “on the basis of an assessment of the impacts, develop a ban on HFO for use and carriage as fuel by ships in Arctic waters, on an appropriate timescale.” The Organization also agreed to consider additional mitigation measures to reduce the risk of HFO spills from carriage.

“We are pleased by the IMO’s agreement on banning HFO use in the Arctic this week,” said Daniel Hubbell, Policy Analyst for EIA. “An HFO spill can scar an ecosystem for decades, harming belugas and other species each time they move through a contaminated area. The most effective way to prevent this kind of persistent HFO spill is to ban its use in the region.”

Heavy fuel oil is a cheap and dirty fossil fuel that powers the majority of the world’s shipping fleet and accounts for 75 percent of fuel carried in the Arctic. When HFO spills in areas like the Russian White Sea, it has been difficult to clean up with traditional methods. The presence of oil well above safe levels has been measured more than a decade after the Russian White Sea oil spill and has led belugas and other species to abandon the contaminated area entirely.

Today’s agreement by the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee is the culmination of two years of growing momentum for an HFO ban. Representatives from the Arctic’s indigenous communities of Alaska, Canada, and the Russian Federation also spoke at the IMO in support of a ban, including Canadian activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

“The IMO’s decision to include an assessment of this ban’s impacts on local communities shows the Organization is listening to the needs and concerns of the Arctic’s indigenous communities and a willingness to prevent an HFO spill rather than respond to one after the damage is done,” said Hubbell.

Press Contacts

Daniel Hubbell, Policy Analyst (dhubbell@eia-global.org)

Lindsay Moran, Head of Communications (lmoran@eia-global.org)

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