In an exclusive interview to SAFETY4SEA, Dr Sian Prior, Leader Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, explains how climate change impacts Arctic environment and suggests ways in reducing shipping’s contribution to the Arctic climate crisis and global heating.
In that regard, the implementation of the prohibition on the use and carriage of HFO by ships in the Arctic to reduce the risk of HFO spills should be speeded-up, Dr. Prior highlights. Furthermore, Dr. Prior refers to a new Arctic Ocean Action initiative that urges the international community to support immediate action by 2030 and a ban on the use of scrubbers.
SAFETY4SEA: Tell us a few words about the Clean Arctic Alliance. What is the focus and goals of your organization?
Sian Prior: Made up of 20 not-for-profit organisations, the Clean Arctic Alliance campaigns to persuade governments to take action to protect the Arctic, its wildlife and its people, from the impacts of shipping, including the achievement of:
- significant reductions in black carbon emissions from shipping both regionally in the Arctic and from further afield which impact in the Arctic,
- urgent, short-term measures to reduce CO2 emissions from international shipping in response to the Arctic climate crisis,
- national (domestic) level reductions in black carbon emissions from ships and bans on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oils in national waters,
- prohibiting the use of scrubbers and discharge of scrubber effluents in the Arctic, and
- addressing ship-sourced underwater noise to reduce disturbance of Arctic wildlife.
S4S: When it comes to Arctic shipping, what should be the top priorities for the industry?
S.Pr.: The top priority must be minimising shipping’s impact on the Arctic environment, wildlife and Indigenous communities, while operating safely. Black carbon emissions have a disproportionate impact when emitted in and near to the Arctic. A short-term climate forcer, black carbon heats the atmosphere and when this happens in the Arctic, the impact is greater – plus when it settles onto snow and ice it speeds up melting and creates dark areas when land and water is exposed which absorb further heat from the sun (this is known as the loss of the albedo effect, i.e. the planet’s natural reflectivity).
S4S: What do you do to address shipping’s impact on the Arctic? What will be your strategy for the next five years towards?
S.Pr.: The coming five years are absolutely critical if we are to have a meaningful impact in reducing shipping’s contribution to the Arctic climate crisis and global heating. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) must take immediate action this year to start reducing black carbon emissions especially from those ships operating in and near the Arctic, i.e. north of 60oN . This could be quickly achieved by making different fuel choices, which would see rapid results since black carbon only remains in the atmosphere for a matter of days to weeks – unlike CO2 which remains in the atmosphere for decades to centuries. Installing existing technology such as particulate filters, widely used on land-based transport, would further reduce black carbon emissions by over 90 percent. A fuel switch – which can be implemented immediately – to distillate fuels or alternative cleaner fuels or forms of propulsion would see significant reductions in black carbon emissions and it is essential for technological solutions such as filters or precipitators. It would also avoid the need to use scrubbers and to discharge scrubber effluent into the oceans. In parallel, energy efficiency measures to reduce CO2 emissions and reduce underwater noise should be introduced to commence decarbonisation and reduce the disturbance of marine wildlife. To achieve this regulation is needed, both to make the requirements compulsory, but also to ensure that everyone is working to the same rules.
S4S: What are the alarming trends/ topics that you would like to pinpoint? How should industry stakeholders work to tackle these?
S.Pr.: The most alarming trend at the moment is the global climate crisis and in particular how that is manifest in the Arctic. The Arctic serves as a regulator of global climate and other ecological processes – what happens in the Arctic has an impact on the whole world. The Arctic is recognised by some scientists to be warming up to four times faster than the average warming for the planet as a whole. Unprecedented seasonal sea ice loss, permafrost thaw and increasing ocean temperature are current realities – not future possibilities. The extent and volume of sea ice has reduced dramatically – 73 percent between 1979 and 2016 with as much as 95 percent of older, multi-year sea ice disappearing between 1985 and 2018. There is high confidence that processes are nearing points beyond which rapid and irreversible changes on the scale of multiple human generations are possible.
S4S: In which areas are you satisfied with progress made so far with regards to industry’s impact on the Arctic? What are your suggestions to move forward?
S.Pr.: In recent years there has been a lot more shipping interest in the Arctic, both in terms of exporting Arctic resources and also finding shorter, quicker routes across the Arctic for shipping goods between Europe and Asia. Between 2013 and 2019, the Arctic Council has reported a 25 percent increase in the numbers of ships operating in the Arctic and a 75 percent increase in the distance travelled in the Arctic. So far there has been little satisfactory progress in terms of reducing shipping’s impact on the Arctic. The International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Polar Code which came into effect in January 2017 is a welcome development and provides additional safety and pollution prevention requirements for ships operating in Arctic waters (not the whole Arctic). It introduced some new provisions with respect to operational discharges (i.e. oils, sewage and garbage) effectively making “Arctic waters” a MARPOL “Special Area” in all but name, however it failed to address a number of major impacts of shipping on the Arctic. Atmospheric emissions such as black carbon are not addressed by the Polar Code and it does not consider other impacts such as discharges of grey water, nor underwater noise.
A new regulation to address the risks of heavy fuel oil (HFO) spills was introduced in MARPOL Annex I in 2021 and took effect in November 2022. It prohibits the use and carriage as fuel of HFO by ships operating in Arctic waters (not the whole Arctic), but it doesn’t apply the prohibition until July 2024, and because it allows for exemptions and waivers it won’t have a comprehensive impact until July 2029 – much too late. Also in 2021, an IMO Resolution was adopted urging ships to move to distillate or other cleaner fuels or methods of propulsion. While welcome, a resolution is only recommendatory and does not have the weight of regulation.
In terms of moving forward, the IMO Resolution calling for a fuel switch needs to urgently be given teeth – made mandatory throughout the wider Arctic which could be done by including a new regulation in MARPOL Annex VI. The implementation of the prohibition on the use and carriage of HFO by ships in the Arctic to reduce the risk of HFO spills should be speeded-up. There is no benefit from delaying full implementation for five years till July 2029. Furthermore, the designation of emission control areas (ECAs) which restrict emissions of black carbon as well as SOx and NOx would help reduce and prevent black carbon arriving in the Arctic from ships operating further to the south. Finally expansion and strengthening of the Polar Code would also be valuable to comprehensively address all aspects of polar shipping.
S4S: Considering that Arctic shipping activities are increasing beyond control, what is urgently needed to foster sustainability in the area and protect Arctic’s pristine environment?
S.Pr.: Stronger political will is needed along with a strong commitment from industry to protect the Arctic. We need to see leadership from Arctic governments and also from industry leaders. The Arctic is far from pristine, but it has seen comparatively less development and shipping activity than much of the rest of the planet. This is now changing, and at the same time the Arctic is experiencing the biggest impacts of global heating. It is warming up to four times faster than the planet as whole and has seen widespread reductions in sea ice which is leading to increased interest in accessing Arctic mineral resources. We are already tied into sea level rise of between 27 and 78 cm from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet probably before the end of this century, complete collapse of the ice sheet would lead to over 7m of sea level rise although this would be over a much longer period of time.
S4S: What is your wish list for the industry and/or regulators and all parties involved for the shipping industry following IMO discussions?
S.Pr.: My wish list to protect the Arctic from the impacts of shipping would include…
- Immediate IMO measures for ships operating in and near to the Arctic to reduce black carbon emissions
- a new MARPOL Annex VI black carbon regulation (requiring a switch to distillate or alternative cleaner, non-fossil fuels or alternative means of propulsion)
- new emissions control areas which effectively reduce black carbon emissions
- Speeding up the implementation of the HFO ban (with immediate implementation, not waiting until July 2024 and July 2029)
- A ban on the use of scrubbers (and scrubber discharges) in the Arctic
- Immediate energy efficiency measures to reduce ships’ CO2 emissions and underwater noise
- Elimination of all routine shipping discharges in the Arctic
- Implementation of a rapid global decarbonisation pathway reducing shipping’s climate impact by 50 percent by 2030 because of the impact of global heating on the Arctic.
S4S: If you could change one thing from your perspective, what this one thing would it be and why?
S.Pr.: I would like to instill a sense of urgency into the development of regulations to reduce black carbon emissions impacting the Arctic. It is well over a decade now since the issue of black carbon was first raised at the IMO, and the news from the UN IPCC 6th Assessment report is dire. We are approaching Arctic tipping points, and in fact have likely already passed the sea ice tipping point, within the coming decade we are likely to see the first days with the Arctic with no summer sea ice. All sectors urgently need action to reduce emissions of all short-lived climate forcers and to start the process of decarbonisation immediately. In the case of black carbon emissions which have a disproportionate impact on the Arctic should be “low hanging fruit” to address – it is simply a question of a fuel switch and using technology which has been used by land-based transport for a long time.
S4S: Do you have any projects/ plans that you would like to share with industry stakeholders?
S.Pr.: We would like to hear from any industry leaders who believe that they can lead by example – by switching first to distillate fuels when operating in and near to the Arctic, by using technology such as particulate filters or precipitators to reduce black carbon emissions, and by taking steps to move to non-fossil fuels or alternative forms of propulsion in the Arctic. We are not interested in “fixes” which prolong the use of fossil fuels. They might also like to check out our new Arctic Ocean Action initiative: https://cleanarctic.org/arctic-ocean-action/
It urges the international community to support immediate action to protect the Arctic from the impacts of shipping in and near to the Arctic and specifically call for:
- urgent action to halve ship climate impacts by 2030,
- an immediate switch to cleaner fuels to significantly cut ship black carbon emissions in and near the Arctic, and
- a ban on the use of scrubbers.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders with regards to a more sustainable future for the Arctic region?
S.Pr.: There will never be a sustainable future for the Arctic region or indeed for Indigenous communities if we don’t urgently address the impact of short-lived climate forcers such as black carbon and methane, and start decarbonising shipping. This is important not just for the Arctic environment, wildlife and communities – what happens in the Arctic has consequences for the planet as a whole.
The views presented are only those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
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