NGOs Call for Urgent Cut to Shipping’s Black Carbon Impacts on Arctic

Let's get Heavy Fuel Oil out of the Arctic

London, May 13, 2019:- The Clean Arctic Alliance today called on International Maritime Organization Member States to reduce the impact of black carbon emissions from international shipping on the Arctic environment, as the UN body gathers in London for a meeting of its Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC74), during which a number of issues, including black carbon emissions and heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic will feature on the agenda [1][2][3].

Emissions of black carbon particles by ships burning heavy fuel oil has a dramatic climate warming effect – black carbon is a potent short-lived climate forcer that remains in the atmosphere for only a few days to weeks. But when black carbon is emitted from ships burning heavy fuel in or near Arctic waters, particles fall on ice or snow, reducing its albedo (reflectivity) and causing it to absorb more heat, thus accelerating the warming of the Arctic region. As well as the second leading cause of global warming, black carbon emissions are also harmful to human health.

“By cutting ship-sourced emissions of black carbon, IMO member states could take a quick and effective path to countering the current climate crisis, and minimise further impacts on the Arctic”, said Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a group of nonprofit organisations campaigning for a ban on use and carriage of ban HFO. “We’re calling on IMO member states to champion a move away from using heavy fuel oils – shipping’s number one source of black carbon – in Arctic waters. With cleaner shipping fuels already available and innovation and ambition driving the global shipping industry towards lower emissions, IMO member states must move rapidly towards zero emission solutions” [4].

“All eight Arctic countries made a commitment to demonstrate leadership on black carbon in 2015 – and it now seems that all except Canada are backing a move away from heavy fuel oil in the Arctic [5]. As recent comments from Russia’s President Putin and Finland’s President Niinistö demonstrate, the political will for a HFO Free Arctic exists – now it is the time for IMO Member States to turn this will into action, by moving urgently to reduce black carbon emissions and by backing the ban on the use and carriage of HFO in the Arctic, currently under development.”

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 ban is currently being developed within the IMO [3].

During a public discussion at the April 2019 International Arctic Forum in Saint Petersburg, Finnish President Sauli Niinistö outlined “two promising ways to tackle black carbon emissions in the Arctic. One is modernising outdated heating and power plants. Another is investing in clean and sustainable shipping” [6].

“The Arctic is warming four times faster than the rest of the world, and Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the rest of the world… both of these are really disturbing trends”, responded Russian President Vladimir Putin recognised, during the event. “What is vitally important in my opinion, and here I fully agree with Sauli, is the conversion of ships to more environmentally friendly types of fuel. First of all, I mean gas fuel, especially for ships operating in northern and Arctic seas…. Shipbuilding and shipping companies should be encouraged towards using such types of transport and fuel” [7].

“President Putin’s call for shipowners and builders to lead an Arctic-wide move away from oil-based fuel use is not only an encouragement for Russian shipping to switch to cleaner fuels, it’s an inspiration for the global shipping industry to clean up its act”, said Alexey Knizhnikov, Oil & Gas Programme Leader at WWF Russia. “We look forward to Russia moving to support the forthcoming ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters, currently under development by the IMO” [8].

On May 8th, the Clean Arctic Alliance called on the need for Arctic nations to reaffirm their commitment to reducing black carbon emissions, through collaboration within the International Maritime Organization, after the Arctic Council Ministerial meeting in Finland was unable to achieve a consensus on issuing a joint declaration for the first time in its 23-year history, due to the United States refusal to support the need for collaborative action by the Arctic Council to address climate change [9]. On May 6th, the Clean Arctic Alliance had published a manifesto, calling on Iceland to Take Arctic Council Leadership on Black Carbon Emissions [10].

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that we have 12 years to limit a climate change catastrophe. Recent reports suggest that Greenland’s ice sheet is “falling apart”, with about half of the nearly 5,000 gigatons of water lost from the ice sheet since 1927 occuring in 8 years between 2010 and 2018 [12][12].


MEPC 74 Side Event

Climate Change and IMO Shipping: Arctic Indigenous Leaders’ Reception

Time: Thursday, 16 May 2019, 6pm to 8pm

Location: Crowne Plaza Hotel, 10-11 Albert Embankment, Lambeth, London SE1 7SP (2 minutes from IMO)



Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, HFO-Free Arctic Campaign, [email protected], +34 691 826 764

Further Reading:

Drivers of a Ban on HFO in the Arctic – the Norwegian Case

This report highlights the drivers behind Norway supporting the decision to phase out heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic and from an economic, political and environmental perspective, particularly in how they can contribute to Russia adapting a global leader role in phasing out HFO in the Arctic.


[1] Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC)

13-17 May – 74th session

[2] About Black Carbon

IMO Members at MEPC 74 must: Prioritise work to reduce Black Carbon emissions, and support urgent measures to reduce the impact of Black Carbon emissions from international shipping on the Arctic such as requiring the use of lighter, distillate fuels.

Black carbon (BC), a harmful air pollutant, is the product of incomplete combustion of organic fuels, and contributes from 7-21% of shipping’s climate warming impact. 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.

Recognising the threat to the Arctic from black carbon the Arctic Council’s Framework for Action on Enhanced Black Carbon and Methane Emissions Reductions (agreed in Iqaluit in 2015), commits the Arctic countries to demonstrate leadership by reducing Black Carbon (and methane) emissions produced beyond the borders of Arctic States. The Framework for Action includes a commitment to actively work with and within relevant forums and agreements, which includes the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, to promote actions and decisions that lead to enhanced black carbon and methane emissions reductions.

Heavy fuel oil is a greater source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate fuel and liquefied natural gas (LNG). When emitted and deposited on Arctic snow or ice, the climate warming effect of black carbon is up to five times more than when emitted at lower latitudes, such as in the tropics.

Infographic: How Can We Reduce Black Carbon Emissions From International Shipping?

“Residual fuels such as HFO accounted for an estimated 83% of BC from ships, while ships powered with 2-stroke slow speed diesel main engines were responsible for two-thirds of global BC emissions. Further, just six flag states—Panama, China, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Singapore, and Malta—accounted for more than half of BC emissions.”

Report: Black Carbon Emissions and fuel use in global Shipping

Report: The impacts of an Arctic shipping HFO ban on emissions of Black Carbon


[3] Heavy Fuel Oil

IMO Members at MEPC 74 must support extending the deadline for developing measures to reduce the risks associated with ships using HFO in the Arctic, including a ban, to 2020.

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans – accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 75% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO; over half by vessels flagged to non-Arctic states – countries that have little if any connection to the Arctic.

The Arctic is under pressure – climate change is fuelling temperature rises double the rate of further south. As sea ice melts and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state-flagged vessels running on HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. This, combined with an increase in Arctic state-flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, will greatly increase the risks of HFO spills.

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. (See infographic: Responding to Arctic Shipping Oil Spills: Risks and Challenges).

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.

[4] Green propulsion likened to a gold rush

[5] Arctic Council Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane

The expert group was established at the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Iqaluit 24 April 2015. The objective of the expert group is to periodically assess progress of the implementation of the Arctic Council’s Framework for Action on Black Carbon and Methane, and to inform policy makers from Arctic states and for participating Arctic Council Observer states. This includes preparing, on a once every two-year cycle of the Arctic Council chairmanship, a high level “Summary of Progress and Recommendations” report, with appropriate conclusions and recommendations.

[6] Speech by the President of the Republic of Finland, Mr. Sauli Niinistö, at the Arctic Forum in St. Petersburg, 9 April 2019

[7] President Putin, Plenary session of the International Arctic Forum

[8] IMO Progress On Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Ban Welcomed by Environmental and Indigenous Groups, 26 October 2018

[9] Clean Arctic Alliance Response to Arctic Council Failure to achieve Climate Change Consensus

[10] Manifesto Calls on Iceland to Take Arctic Council Leadership on Black Carbon Emissions



  • IPCC Special report: Global Warming of 1.5C
  • We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,



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, Danish Ecological Council, 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


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