The news came following an increased pressure by environmental groups to the IMO to protect the Arctic marine environment from the impacts of international shipping.

The draft new regulation for HFO, agreed during this week’s meeting of the PPR7, will be forwarded for approval to the Marine Environment Protection Committee in October 2020 (MEPC 76).

While the IMO has made some progress this week on controlling heavy fuel oil use and carriage as fuel in the Arctic, it is outrageous that Member States are prepared to accept another decade of threats from HFO spills to Arctic communities, the environment and wildlife. With the climate crisis already having significant impacts across the Arctic region and routes opening up to increased ship traffic, IMO Member States must take a more ambitious stance later this year, by agreeing to rid the Arctic of HFO in 2024,

...said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of 18 non-governmental organisations.

The draft HFO regulation proposes that there will be no change in the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic before the middle of 2024, when the regulation takes effect.

This means the Arctic will not be rid of HFO until July 2029; in the meantime a loophole in the text will allow Arctic countries to permit continued use of HFO by their vessels.

A second loophole means that ships with double hulls or protected fuel tanks will also be able to carry and use HFO as fuel until 2029, the coalition explained.

In addition, there was further delay on an action to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping that will affect the Arctic, despite the IMO and its Members working on this issue for nine years.

An initial examination of the draft regulation by the Clean Arctic Alliance suggests, based on current Arctic shipping levels, the loopholes mean over three-quarters of the HFO used in the Arctic could be exempt or delayed from implementing the regulation, which equates to more than two-thirds of the HFO carried onboard vessels as fuel,

...the Alliance said.

Meanwhile, these loopholes could also cause an increase in HFO use and carriage in the Arctic.

HFO use is already increasing – between 2015 and 2017 there was a 30% increase in the numbers of ships operating on HFO.

The loopholes will mean that as older ships (covered by the regulation) are replaced with new ships with double-hulls or protected fuel tanks (not covered by the regulation until 2029), the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic will increase.

The Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on IMO Member States to invest further effort to strengthen the implementation timelines and tighten or better still, remove the loopholes which delay the implementation of the draft regulation for double-hull and vessels with protected fuel tanks and which allow waivers. The IMO has a further opportunity to agree action to reduce black carbon emissions that have an impact in the Arctic, by switching from HFO to distillate or cleaner fuels, at MEPC 75 in late March 2020.