Arctic Sea Ice Crisis: World Leaders Must Cut Emissions to Curb Arctic Heating

Pancake ice on Arctic Sea Ice. Photo: Dave Walsh
Pancake ice on Arctic Sea Ice. Photo: Dave Walsh

Clean Arctic Alliance demands greater ambition on heavy fuel oil ban ahead of IMO meeting and calls for Arctic black carbon cuts of 90% and global greenhouse gas emissions by 60%

London, 2 November 2020:- Responding to reports that the annual freeze of the Laptev Sea is delayed, and is being driven by prolonged heat in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters into the Arctic, the Clean Arctic Alliance reiterated its call to world leaders to take urgent action to slow Arctic heating ahead of this month meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75), calling for at least a 60% global greenhouse gas emissions, and a 90% cut to black carbon emissions in the Arctic. [1,2].

“As we all know, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic – and the changes rapidly impacting the Arctic will have repercussions for all of us. The Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to curb Arctic heating, by accelerating national and regional policies and practices that will fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement, especially that of limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius – requiring an at least 60% reduction in climate emissions by 2030, something to which the European Parliament has already agreed upon”, said John Maggs, Senior Policy Advisor at Seas at Risk – a Clean Arctic Alliance member, and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition [3].

“Science shows that the planet has not experienced CO2 levels this high for three million years [4]. As the slow start to this winter’s freezing of the Laptev Sea is demonstrating, and with global mean temperatures already showing an increase of 1.1° Celsius and the Arctic heating twice as much, unless urgent and collective action is taken, a 2° Celsius increase will prove a disaster to human health and wellbeing, our economies and the environment”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“As well as reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, every effort must be made to reduce emissions of short-lived climate forcers such as methane and black carbon – most dramatically in the Arctic, where black carbon emissions must be cut by over 90%”, added Prior. “At a time when the global mantra is to reduce emissions, it is unacceptable that in the shipping sector, emissions of black carbon are actually growing.”

“The loss of sea ice not only allows for greater access to the Arctic and its resources by ships and maritime industries, but it also lengthens the time over which ships can operate in the Arctic. These activities drive an increase in the risks to the Arctic, its communities and its wildlife – risks of heavy fuel and distillate oil spills, increased black carbon emissions, increased underwater noise, and discharges of greywater and scrubber wastes”, continued Prior.

Recently published work by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body responsible for regulating international shipping, shows that globally shipping black carbon emissions have grown by 12 per cent between 2012 and 2018 [5], while work from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that in the Arctic black carbon emissions from the Arctic shipping fleet grew by 85 per cent in only four years between 2015 and 2019 [6].

The Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on world leaders to take the following urgent action to slow the impacts of global heating on the Arctic:

  • Show leadership by example, by accelerating national and regional policies and practices that will fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement, especially that of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius – requiring an at least 60% reduction in emissions by 2030.
  • Through the International Maritime Organization, adopt mandatory measures to reduce ship speed to effect deep immediate reductions in climate emissions from ships.
  • Agree an effective and credible International Maritime Organization regulation which bans the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by Arctic shipping from January 2024 – without exemptions or waivers for any vessels. See: Clean Arctic Alliance Slams Proposed Arctic Shipping Regulation as Full of Dangerous Loopholes.
  • Support a mandatory International Maritime Organization regulation requiring ships to switch from heavy fuels to distillate fuels (or other cleaner fuels) in the Arctic, and install efficient particulate filters in vessels, in order to reduce black carbon emissions by over 90% in the Arctic region, where black carbon emissions are especially damaging.


IMO Virtual Meeting – MEPC 75 – November 2020

The Clean Arctic Alliance, which comprises 21 international non-profit organisations, is campaigning for a robust and effective International Maritime Organization (IMO) ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by shipping in the Arctic, while advocating for shipping to decrease its climate impact, particularly through reductions in black carbon emissions.

However, the ban currently under development by the IMO, if adopted, will be a ban in name only. The draft Arctic HFO ban regulation will be discussed during a meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee from 16-20 November 2020 (MEPC75), which will be the first MEPC meeting held virtually.

During the meeting:

  • NGOs will draw attention to the inadequate impact and effectiveness of the draft regulation banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters.

Recently published work indicates that loopholes in the draft regulation mean that only 30% of HFO carriage and 16% of HFO use would be banned when the regulation comes into effect as proposed in 2024, and incredibly, that it is likely that the amount of HFO carried and used in the Arctic will increase following the ban taking effect.

  • Despite the dramatic changes occuring in the Arctic due to global warming, the risk to the Arctic from emissions of black carbon from shipping is not likely to be addressed at MEPC 75. The Clean Arctic Alliance will however continue to push for the development and adoption of an MEPC Black Carbon resolution which would set out recommended interim measures pending completion of IMO work to identify and implement one or more Black Carbon abatement measures.

Read: What to expect: Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75) – November 16-20 2020

“In light of the inadequacies identified during its recent webinar, the Clean Arctic Alliance does not support the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Arctic HFO regulation (or ban) as currently drafted and is calling on IMO Member States to modify the draft regulation before it is approved”, said Prior. “It is essential that the ban on HFO use and carriage as fuel in the Arctic is ‘fit for purpose; and enters into force quickly and provides the Arctic with the level of protection that it so desperately and urgently needs”.

Under the draft IMO Arctic HFO regulation, exemptions and waivers will allow 74% of HFO-fueled ships to continue using HFO in the Arctic until mid-2029. As a result, only 30% of HFO carriage and 16% of HFO use will be banned under the current proposal and it is likely that the amount of HFO carried and used in the Arctic will actually increase following the ban taking effect in 2024.

In addition, according to legal advice provided to the Clean Arctic Alliance, the waiver raises some serious concerns. The regulation is not flag-neutral, and this will have negative environmental consequences. It will result in lower environmental standards in Arctic territorial seas and exclusive economic zones than in the Arctic high seas areas, and create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement. It could also maintain the risk of a catastrophic HFO spill in Arctic waters and fail to address trans-boundary pollution risks.

Read more about HFO and Black Carbon at MEPC75 



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



[1] The Conversation: Where’s the sea ice? 3 reasons the Arctic freeze is unseasonably late and why it matters, 28 October, 28, Mark Serreze Research Professor of Geography and Director, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder

“Streams of warmer water from the Atlantic Ocean flow into the Arctic at the Barents Sea. This warmer, saltier Atlantic water is usually fairly deep under the more buoyant Arctic water at the surface. Lately, however, the Atlantic water has been creeping up. That heat in the Atlantic water is helping to keep ice from forming and melting existing sea ice from below.”

US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, 5 October 2020: “Following the sea ice extent minimum on September 15, 2020, expansion of the ice edge has been most notable in the northern Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The ice edge along the Laptev Sea continued to retreat farther.”

Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record

Zac Labe:

Further news this week published indicates that “frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean… have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast” at depth of 350 metres in the Laptev Sea… prompting concern among researchers that a new climate feedback loop may have been triggered that could accelerate the pace of global heating”.

‘Sleeping giant’ Arctic methane deposits starting to release, scientists find, Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, October 27, 2020

[2] Clean Arctic Alliance, 22 September 2020 – Arctic Sea Ice Loss: World Leaders Must Arrest Arctic Climate Change Impacts

[3] Euractiv, October 7th, EU Parliament votes for 60% carbon emissions cut by 2030

The September 22nd statement by the Clean Arctic Alliance called for a 50% emissions cut – we have now revised this upwards to match the EU vote.

[4] The Arctic hasn’t been this warm for 3 million years – and that foreshadows big changes for the rest of the planet – Julie Brigham-Grette, Professor of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Steve Petsch Associate Professor of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, The Conversation, September 30, 2020

[5] MEPC 75/7/15: Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships: Fourth IMO GHG Study 2020 – Final report

[6] International Council on Clean Transportation, Black carbon emissions and fuel use in global shipping, 2015


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:

90 North Unit, The Altai Project, 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, International Climate Cryosphere Initiative, Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Stand.Earth, Transport & Environment and WWF. For more information visit





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