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Keep Toxic Heavy Fuel Oils Out Of The Arctic

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ARCTIC SHIPPING
Nikolay Tsuguliev via Getty Images
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Written by Andrew Dumbrille, Senior Specialist, Sustainable Shipping

The push to eliminate the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in the Arctic took a small step forward last week in London when the shipping industry's global regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), heard from WWF and other environmental organizations about the hazards, risks and impacts from the use of this toxic fuel.

An official submission on the need for future study and analysis, prepared by WWF, Friends of the Earth International, Pacific Environment and Clean Shipping Coalition and presented to the Marine Environment Protection committee, received positive support.

Government officials from France, Norway, Sweden and Canada all encouraged further work by the committee on what they called "this important issue." Canadian government representatives thanked WWF and co-sponsors of the paper and committed to working with Arctic partners to address the risks posed by heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.

The global climate system can't wait. It's been more than six years since accidental oil spills were identified as the most significant threat to Arctic marine environments.

Russia was the only dissenting voice, noting the toxicity of lighter fuels like diesel when spilled. Because lighter fuels also have a tendency to remain in the water column and cause harm, the Russian argument served as evidence in favour of switching away from fuels like diesel and heavy fuel oil to cleaner fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG), which have minimal emission and spill impacts. WWF recently studied this fuel switching issue, outlining the reduced risk from the use of sustainably sourced LNG.

Last week's meetings were a success in that they have put the HFO issue on the global regulator's agenda and made space for future work. But in reality, human health, community well-being and the global climate system can't wait.

It's been more than six years since accidental oil spills were identified as the most significant threat to Arctic marine environments, and five years since the IMO first discussed the issue of HFO.

Slow-motion international negotiations as we've seen at the UN on climate talks aren't acceptable. And in London, a quote from Winston Churchill came to mind: "Sometimes doing your best is not good enough, sometimes you need to do what is required." The IMO may be doing its best, but it's clearly not what's required when it comes to the use of dirty ship fuels.

With our partners, WWF is calling for the phase out of HFO by 2020, and we will continue to work at national, corporate and international levels to achieve this important protection for Arctic ecosystems, people and species.

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