UN approves Arctic ship heavy fuel oil ban, but it’s got no teeth

The UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved a ban on Friday of ships’ use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters after July 1, 2024. However, since it includes exemptions and waivers — loopholes — a complete HFO ban would only come into effect in mid-2029.

Arctic ship disappointment

The Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 21 nonprofit organizations, expressed that this path was an utter disappointment. Dr. Sian Prior, lead adviser to the Clean Arctic Alliance, said:

By taking the decision to storm ahead with the approval of this outrageous ban, the IMO and its member states must take collective responsibility for failing to put in place true protection of the Arctic, Indigenous communities and wildlife from the threat of heavy fuel oil.

In its current form, the ban will achieve only a minimal reduction in HFO use and carriage by ships in the Arctic in mid-2024, when it comes into effect. It is now crucial that Arctic coastal states do not resort to issuing waivers to their flagged vessels.

The ban … will mean that a full three-quarters of the ships using HFO today will be eligible for an exemption.

The Clean Arctic Alliance urges IMO Member States to seriously consider how the ban can be strengthened ahead of formal adoption next year, and for individual states to examine domestic options for providing the protection required for the Arctic from the risks of HFO use and carriage, such as Norway’s recent proposal to ban HFO from the waters around Svalbard

Electrek’s Take

As Electrek reported on October 16, “90% of the world’s goods are moved by sea. Between 2% and 3% of emissions are generated by shipping. This is a bigger climate story than anything Australia, the UK, Germany, or Brazil individually does on climate.”

The IMO aims to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50% from 2008 levels by 2050, but is under pressure to improve its targets. There needs to be more innovation in the shipping industry to reduce the use of heavy fuel oils more rapidly due to the sheer environmental damage done by the sector.

Photo: Lucas van Oort/Unsplash

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Avatar for Michelle Lewis Michelle Lewis

Michelle Lewis is a writer and editor on Electrek and an editor on DroneDJ, 9to5Mac, and 9to5Google. She lives in White River Junction, Vermont. She has previously worked for Fast Company, the Guardian, News Deeply, Time, and others. Message Michelle on Twitter or at michelle@9to5mac.com. Check out her personal blog.