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ICC Canada Brings Inuit Message to London IMO Meeting: Time to Ban HFO’s in Arctic Shipping

This week the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) is meeting in London, UK. Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) Canada Vice-President (International) Lisa Koperqualuk is attending the meetings to bring the Inuit voice on Arctic shipping including the need for cleaner, safer fuels to the international community. On the agenda was, “Reducing risks and use and carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil by ships in Arctic Waters”.

HFOs are banned in Antarctic waters, and the IMO PPR Sub-Committee is mandated to recommend to the IMO how HFOs should be dealt with in Arctic waters. The IMO is the United Nations (UN) agency charged with regulating international shipping. This work on HFOs in the Arctic is helping IMO fulfil its mandate to protect oceans and human health and to mitigate climate change in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), notably on Climate Change, and Oceans (SDGs 13, and 14).

The ICC (Canada) Vice-President spoke during the opening plenary. “The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognizes our cultural rights, economic rights, Indigenous knowledge, and self-determination,” said Lisa Koperqualuk. “The PPR sub-committee must ensure that our communities are not negatively impacted, culturally, socially and economically by decisions here. We can achieve this by engaging Inuit communities during this important work towards a ban on the use and carriage of HFO’s in Arctic waters.”

Ms. Koperqualuk also delivered a presentation pointing out that Inuit regions are supportive of a ban on the use of HFOs in Arctic waters. This is consistent with the July, 2018 ICC Utqiaġvik Declaration, Article 18, that directs ICC to: “advocate for the enforcement of the IMO Polar Code, other international and national regulations, advance emergency response, and phase out heavy fuel oil (HFO) in order to minimize impacts on marine mammals and fish and to prevent disruption of seasonal hunting, and for safety and environmental protection.” Koperqualuk noted, “This must be done without putting undo cost or burden on our communities.”

HFO is extremely thick and breaks down slowly in the cold Arctic environment. Even in ideal conditions, spill response in the Arctic is difficult if not impossible. In Canada a third of ship voyages in the Arctic used HFOs. The heavy fuel also produces higher emissions of harmful pollutants like sulphur and nitrogen oxides, and black carbon. Switching from HFO to low-sulphur distillate fuels would reduce Black Carbon emissions between 30-80%.

Koperqualuk pointed out that over 50% of the daily Inuit diet comes from the land and sea. The value of a clean environment and sea ice cover is immeasurable. An HFO spill would put these community values at significant risk. As well, Inuit communities are much more at risk from food insecurity compared to the Canadian population, transportation costs are high, and most supplies, including food, comes by the annual sealift.

Policies need to be put in place in the short term to allow a transition away from dirty fuels such as HFOs, and a ‘fuel switching transition fund’ is one potential approach.

Koperqualuk also highlighted the fact that South of 60O ships are required to burn cleaner, less toxic fuels in what’s called an Emission Control Area (ECA). They are set up in high population areas to reduce harmful air emissions impacting human health. It means ships engage in ‘fuel switching’, burning less toxic fuels in the southern ECA, and switching to the more polluting HFOs in the Arctic.
Source: The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC)

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