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Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes IMO agreement to cut black carbon impacts on Arctic

30 Nov 2021

Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition made of non-profit organisations (NGO), on Friday (26 November) said it welcomes the adoption of an International Maritime Organization (IMO) resolution to cut the climate impacts of black carbon emissions by shipping on the Arctic.

But the group expressed disappointment in watering down its substance in order to reach consensus and placate a small but vocal group of opposing countries.

Proposed during a recent week’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 77) by Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Solomon Islands, Sweden, UK, and US, the resolution calls for support of  “voluntary use of cleaner fuels by ships operating in or near the Arctic” (MEPC 77/9).

On 25 November, some 27 countries (France, Sweden, Slovenia, Norway, Finland, US, Canada, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, Vanuatu, Spain, Monaco, Iceland, Italy, Croatia, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Belgium, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Palau, Tonga, Ireland, Fiji, Iran, Portugal) spoke in favour of paper MEPC 77/9, with more than 30 delegations backing it in total. 

A small group of countries spoke in opposition, including Russia, China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Angola. During an informal working group to refine and finalise the resolution, the wording was systematically and meticulously watered down by opposing countries and shipping interests.  This version was adopted during plenary on 26 November (MEPC 77-J-9).

“While the Clean Arctic Alliance is pleased the IMO finally discussed and accepted the proposal for a black carbon resolution, which received support from over 30 delegations in plenary, including 27 IMO Member States, we are disappointed that in the effort to placate a small but vocal coterie of opposing countries, important substance was lost from the original draft resolution, leaving us with a watered down version,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“However, what is important is that this resolution now sends a strong message that domestic and regional action to reduce black carbon emissions from ships should proceed.”

“It was confirmed by a number of interventions from delegations during MEPC 77 that a switch to distillate, or other cleaner fuels and forms of propulsion by ships operating in and near the Arctic, will reduce black carbon emissions in the region,” she added.

“The Clean Arctic Alliance is confident that today’s adoption of the resolution on reducing black carbon emissions is the first step towards reducing the impact of the shipping sector on Arctic ecosystems and for Indigenous and local communities.

“If all shipping currently using heavy fuel oils while in the Arctic were to switch to distillate fuel, there would be an immediate reduction of around 44% in black carbon emissions from these ships. If particulate filters were installed on board these vessels, black carbon emissions could be reduced by over 90%.”

Black carbon is a short-lived climate force responsible for 20% of shipping climate impact (on a 20-year basis). When black carbon settles onto snow and ice, melting accelerates, and the loss of reflectivity creates a feedback loop exacerbating global heating. Black carbon emissions from shipping in the Arctic increased 85% between 2015 and 2019.

Although progress was made during MEPC 77 to address emissions of black carbon from ships, the Clean Arctic Alliance noted the disappointing lack of support from IMO Members for a proposed resolution from South Pacific islands states – Kiribati, Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands – recognising the need to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions no later than 2050 (MEPC 77/7/3).

“Reducing black carbon emissions is imperative for the shipping industry in the short term, but must happen in parallel with measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping if it is to play its part in slowing down the loss of Arctic snow and ice,” she continued.

“It has long been recognised that what happens in the Arctic, doesn’t stay in the Arctic, and will have repercussions elsewhere through sea level rise and changing weather patterns. In light of this, the lack of support for the proposed resolution from vulnerable low-lying island states is an unacceptable response to the climate crisis.”

The Clean Arctic Alliance also welcomed progress made during MEPC 77 on the consideration of the use of scrubbers and scrubber discharges, but stressed the urgency for the work proposed to be completed during 2022 as an increasing number of scrubbers are being installed and being used each year, since the IMO’s cap on the sulphur content on fuel oil came into effect in 2020 (MEPC 77/9/1).

“Removing sulphur in exhaust emissions to then dump them into the ocean is completely unacceptable. Scrubbers and scrubber discharges should not be allowed in the Arctic or elsewhere,” said Prior.

Related: ‘Missed opportunity’ to decarbonise shipping at MEPC 77, says ICS
Related: Clean Shipping Coalition: UN shipping agency climate talks again held back by handful of blockers
Related: MEPC 77: For climate progress, shipping needs action from IMO member states on concrete initiatives
Related: INTERCARGO supports IMO’s MEPC 77 shipping decarbonisation goals by 2050
Related: INTERCARGO: Global challenges require global solutions to achieve zero-emission shipping by 2050
Related: Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association: MEPC 77 needs to deliver concrete actions
Related: IBIA: ECGS guidelines and discharge policy on MEPC 77 agenda
Related: IBIA: MEPC 77 to discuss mandatory flashpoint on the BDN
Related: MEPC 77: Governments to decide on ICS USD 5 billion R&D fund to accelerate decarbonisation goals


Photo credit: International Maritime Organization
Published: 30 November, 2021

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