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With Arctic Winter Sea Ice at Annual Low, Urgent Need to Slash Shipping Emissions

Responding to reports from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) that Arctic sea ice has reached its winter maximum, the fifth lowest in the 45-year satellite record, the Clean Arctic Alliance today called on the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to take immediate action to reduce fossil fuel emissions including black carbon from global shipping in order to rapidly reduce their impact on the Arctic [1].

The Alliance, consisting of 20 international non-for profit organisations also stressed the importance of the EU retaining reference to black carbon in a crucial review clause which would ensure that black carbon emissions from ships are considered at the first review of the bloc’s FuelEU shipping regulation [2].

“The devastating news that the Arctic sea ice maximum has reached one of the lowest extents recorded must drive an urgent and rapid slashing of emissions – particularly black carbon – from all sectors, including international shipping”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“While many sectors have been focused on achieving a 25 – 33% reduction in emissions of black carbon (based on 2013 levels) by 2025, as agreed by the 2017 Arctic Council Ministerial, between 2015 and 2019 emissions from the global shipping sector operating in Arctic waters have risen 85% (ICCT data)” [3,4].

Sea ice in the Arctic. Photo © Dave Walsh

According to the NSIDC, the “date of the Arctic sea ice maximum this year, March 6th, was six days earlier than the 1981 to 2010 average date of March 12” at 14.62 million square kilometers” and since then the “extent has dropped about 200,000 square kilometers (77,000 square miles), with losses primarily in Labrador Sea, Gulf of St. Lawrence, and the Barents Sea. The five lowest winter ice maximum extents have all occurred in the last eight years while seven of the ten lowest winter ice maximum extents have occurred in the last decade.

The report on Arctic sea ice loss comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) publishes its Synthesis Report (SYR) on March 20th. The Synthesis Report is the last of IPCC’s Sixth Assessment (AR6) cycle of publications, and aims to “synthesise and integrate materials contained within the Assessment Reports and Special Reports” [5].

“The IPCC findings come as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) meets to discuss the revision of its GHG Strategy, and makes clear that ship climate impacts must be halved by 2030, with full decarbonisation close to 2040. It is imperative that ambitious science-based short-term targets are adopted to mobilise green investment and drive decarbonisation of the sector in line with the goal of the Paris Agreement. Fast deep cuts in CO2 and black carbon emissions from ships are needed, especially from those visiting the Arctic”, said Prior.

Black carbon is a potent climate forcing pollutant with an impact over three thousand times that of CO2 and responsible for around 20% of shipping’s climate impact (on a 20 year basis)]. Black carbon has a disproportionately high impact when released in and near the Arctic – when it is emitted from the exhausts of ships burning heavy fuel oil (HFO) it is hot and warms the atmosphere and then when it settles onto snow and ice, it accelerates melting and the loss of reflectivity as dark land and dark water is exposed – the albedo effect – which creates a feedback loop that further exacerbates local and global heating. Learn more about black carbon here.

“More than fifteen years have passed since environmental groups first warned the International Maritime Organization (IMO) member states about the impact of black carbon emissions from shipping, and it has been over a decade since Member States agreed a work plan with the intention of reducing the impact of ships’ black carbon emissions on the Arctic; yet so far, no compulsory action has been agreed to reduce black carbon emissions”, said Prior

“This April, the IMO’s Pollution Prevention and Response sub-committee (PPR 10) has an opportunity to make recommendations on mandatory action which would see rapid reductions in black carbon emissions”

“The shocking decline of Arctic sea ice is yet further evidence that the window of opportunity to protect summer sea ice is closing”, continued Prior “Urgent action to reduce black carbon emissions is needed this year – IMO member states must make clear recommendations on the most effective mandatory measures which will require shipping companies and ship operators to reduce their black carbon emissions quickly, at the next meeting of the IMO’s PPR sub-committee in April”.
Source: Clean Arctic Alliance

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