IMO Meeting: Will Shipping Summit Act to Protect Arctic from Spills and Emissions?

Canada becomes 7th Arctic state to back Heavy Fuel Oil Ban
Date: February 17, 2020

London, February 17, 2020: NGOs today called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to protect the Arctic marine environment from the impacts of international shipping, by agreeing to a new regulation banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships operating in Arctic waters during this week’s “Arctic IMO Summit” in London.

The week-long (17-21 February) meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR7) – dubbed the IMO Arctic Summit due to the Arctic-related issues dominating the agenda – includes negotiations on measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of HFO as fuel by shipping in Arctic waters, and on the reduction of impacts of black carbon emissions from global shipping on the Arctic region [1].

“With the effects of the climate crisis already having significant impacts across the Arctic region and Arctic routes opening up to increasing ship traffic, IMO Member States must strongly support the introduction of a HFO ban this week,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations. “We are overdue action and any delays or exemptions to a ban will only prolong the threat of a HFO spill in the Arctic, putting communities, livelihoods and wildlife at risk, an the views of Indigenous groups and individuals must be taken into special consideration while developing the ban”.

Support for an IMO ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic had previously come from a number of countries, including six of the eight Arctic states. Canada, which, along with Russia,  had previously withheld support for the HFO ban, has now also publicly voiced its support [2,3].

“Canada’s announcement to support a HFO ban on Arctic shipping is very encouraging news ahead of the tough negotiations at the IMO this week”, said Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Sustainable Shipping Specialist a WWF Canada. “By becoming the 7th of eight Arctic nations to back the ban, Canada is showing vision and leadership in creating a pathway for cleaner shipping in the Arctic – but it must now ensure that it does not put any obstacle in the way of putting the HFO ban in place as soon as possible.”

“Canada is to be commended for working towards protecting the Arctic marine environment and ensuring communities have access to a clean ocean for food and culture – but the federal government now has the obligation to ensure any potential costs associated with banning HFO don’t impact people in Northern communities,” added Dumbrille.

“The IMO must not entertain any arguments calling for a delay in the implementation of an Arctic ban on HFO”, said Dr Prior. “The use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic is increasing, with a 46% increase in the volume of HFO fuel carried by ships in the Arctic between 2015 and 2017, and a 57% increase in the amount of HFO used – and this will only increase the risks of HFO spills and impacts from black carbon in the region [4]. IMO Member States, in particular Arctic governments, must cooperate on the delivery of a ban as quickly as possible.”

Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in cold polar waters, it breaks down slowly, proving almost impossible to clean up. A HFO spill would have long-term devastating effects on Arctic indigenous communities, livelihoods and the marine ecosystems they depend upon.

Black carbon , a harmful air pollutant, is the product of incomplete combustion of organic fuels, and contributes from 7-21% of shipping’s climate warming impact [5]. The largest sources of BC are fossil fuel, biomass and biofuel combustion. Ships emit more BC per unit of fuel consumed than other combustion sources due to the quality of the fuel used. BC has human health impacts and is a potent climate forcer. When emitted in the Arctic, Black Carbon particles fall on snow, on glacier ice and sea ice, reducing their reflectivity (albedo) and increasing the absorption of heat. As multi-season sea ice recedes due to climate change, Arctic waters will open up to increased shipping – which could lead to increased Black Carbon emissions, fueling an already accelerating feedback loop.

During PPR 7, the Clean Arctic Alliance will reiterate its request for the IMO to urgently require all ships operating in the Arctic to switch to distillate fuels, in order to significantly reduce black carbon emissions and contribute to meeting ambitious targets set by the Arctic Council to reduce black carbon emissions [6]. Recent revelations suggesting that the use of some new low sulphur fuel oils with a high aromatic content, introduced to meet the IMO’s 2020 sulphur cap, could increase black carbon emissions, add to the urgency of such a switch. Switching to distillate fuels in the Arctic and the use of a diesel particulate filter will lead to black carbon reductions of over 99%. The Alliance is further requesting that the IMO support the development of a global rule prohibiting fuels with high black carbon emissions [7,8].

Until new regulations can be developed and enter into force, the Clean Arctic Alliance is proposing that IMO Member States agree a Resolution at MEPC 75 (March 31- April 3rd) calling on ship owners, charterers, fuel providers and other stakeholders to implement a switch to distillate in the Arctic on a voluntary basis.


Dave Walsh, Clean Arctic Alliance Communications Advisor, [email protected] +34 691 826 764

Jim Gamble, Pacific Environment Arctic Program Director, [email protected]

Side Events
See below for list of official events, or visit the IMO Arctic Summit website

Infographics: sit the IMO Arctic Summit website for full set of Infographics on Arctic shipping, heavy fuel oil and black carbon:

[1] IMO Papers on Heavy Fuel Oil and Black Carbon – Submitted by NGOs and those in the Public Domain
PPR 7/14/4Draft language for a ban of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic Waters (Denmark et al.)
PPR 7/14/16 Comments on document PPR 7/14/4, “Draft language for a ban of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters” (NGOs)
PPR 7-14-1 – Arctic Indigenous Support for the Ban of Heavy Fuel Oil in the Arctic (pdf). (NGOs)
PPR 7/8: Initial results of a Black Carbon measurement campaign with emphasis on the impact of the fuel oil quality on Black Carbon emission
PPR 7/8/2: PPR7 Submission: The need for urgent action to stop the use of blended low sulphur residual fuels leading to increases in ship-source Black Carbon globally

[2] 13 February 2020: Radio Canada International, Canada plans to support ban on heavy fuel oil in Arctic shipping

[3] In July 2017, the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71), agreed to embark on a body of work aimed at mitigating the risks of HFO. This move was welcomed by the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of non-profit organisations calling for a ban on the use and carriage of HFO as fuel in the Arctic – as the simplest and most effective way to mitigate its effects.

At MEPC 72 in April 2018, a strongly-worded proposal to ban HFO as shipping fuel from Arctic waters was co-sponsored by Finland, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the US. The proposal for a ban, along with a proposal to assess the impact of such a ban on Arctic communities from Canada, was supported by Australia, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Ireland, Japan, the League of Arab States, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the UK.

At MEPC 73 in October 2018, support came from Austria, Bangladesh, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Poland and the UK, for the proposal for a ban to be sent to a Pollution Prevention and Response subcommittee (PPR 6, February 18-22, 2018), for development, along with a draft impact assessment methodology for assessing the impact of a HFO ban on Arctic ecosystems, Indigenous local communities and economies to be finalised. Work commenced on defining what types of fuel will be banned and how they will be banned.

Although work on measures to reduce the risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) as fuel by ships in Arctic waters was not a major focus for MEPC 74 in May 2019, a decision was made at this meeting to extend the work to 2020. Black carbon, which is emitted into the Arctic environment when HFO is burned in Arctic waters, was on the agenda, but as the meeting closed, the Clean Arctic Alliance expressed frustration over Members States’ failure to address the risk to the Arctic from emissions of black carbon from international shipping, as the issue was sent to PPR 7 for further work.

[4] Comer, B., 2019. Heavy Fuel Oil and Black Carbon in the Arctic, 2015 to 2017. Presentation to PPR 6, London, February 2019.

[5] International Council on Clean Transportation, Greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping, 2013–2015

IMO Submission: Consideration Of The Impact On The Arctic Of Emissions Of Black Carbon From International Shipping: Greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping 2013-2015

[6] Arctic Council Expert Group On Black Carbon and Methane Summary Of Progress and Recommendations 2017

[7] In January 2020, after a paper submitted by German and Finland to PPR 7 in November 2019 revealed that the new blended low sulphur shipping fuels (VLSFO) developed and marketed by oil companies to comply with IMO 2020 air pollution standards could lead to a surge in the emissions of a Super Pollutant known as Black Carbon, the Clean Arctic Alliance called or the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high Black Carbon emissions.

In response, Clean Arctic Alliance wrote a letter containing the following questions to representatives of the marine fuel industry who prepared the definitive guidance on the supply and use of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel only months ago, to ask:

  • Were you aware that these new low sulphur heavy fuel blends had higher aromatic content?
  • Were you aware of the link between higher aromatic content in fuels and higher BC emissions?
  • If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then why did you not immediately seek to halt the production of these fuels and alert the IMO?

The letter was sent to IACS, IBIA, IPIECA, IMarEST, IUMI, OCIMF, and the Royal Institute of Naval Architects – all of whom have consultative status to the IMO. The letter was also sent to ARA, Concawe, CIMAC and JPEC. All of the organisations are named as co-authors of the Joint Industry Guidance on “The supply and use of 0.50%-sulphur marine fuel” published in August 2019. The industry responded, prompting the Clean Arctic Alliance to issue a further letter on February 10, 2020.

[8] PPR 5/INF.7 An update to the investigation of appropriate control measures (abatement technologies) to reduce Black Carbon emissions from international shipping. Submitted by Canada, 29 November 2017.…-Canada.pdf

IMO Arctic Summit Side Events

Monday 17 February
Benefits and Impacts of an Arctic HFO Ban – Case study of the Canadian Mining Sector
13:20 – 13:50, Main Hall – ground floor, IMO

IMAVUT Evening Reception – Inuit Circumpolar Council
Time: 17:45 – 20:00, Delegates Lounge

Tuesday 18 February
Impacto del carbono negro y de los combustibles pesados en el Ártico (y más allá)
Breakfast – Spanish event
Time: 08:00 – 09:15 (se ofrece desayuno), Committee Room 14, IMO

Arctic Community Perspectives on the Effects of International Shipping
13:20 – 13:50 Main Hall – ground floor, IMO

Wednesday 19 February
Shipping, Climate and the Arctic.
Time: 13:20 – 13:50 Main Hall – ground floor, IMO

More information on events here:

About the Clean Arctic Alliance
The following not-for-profit organisations form the Clean Arctic Alliance, which is committed to a ban on HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic:

Alaska Wilderness League, Bellona, Clean Air Task Force, Green Transition Denmark, Ecology and Development Foundation ECODES, Environmental Investigation Agency, European Climate Foundation, Friends of the Earth US, Greenpeace, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Stand.Earth, Transport & Environment and WWF.

More more information visit