Andrew Dumbrille, Arctic shipping specialist for WWF-Canada, advocated for cleaner fuels at this month’s meeting of the International Maritime Organization in London.
Eliminating the use by ships of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in the Arctic moved closer to reality this week in London. The shipping industries’ global regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), heard from WWF and other environmental organizations about the hazards, risks and impacts from the use of this toxic fuel. An official submission (PDF) to the Marine Environment Protection Committee received positive interventions from countries supporting the need for future study and analysis. France, Norway, Sweden and Canada all spoke up in plenary encouraging further work by the committee on what they called ‘this important issue’.
Russia was the only dissenting voice, making a critique about the toxicity of lighter fuels like diesel when spilled and how they too have a tendency to remain in the water column and cause harm. In the end this comment from Russia wasn’t a critique at all; it gave more evidence for switching away from fuels like diesel and HFO to cleaner fuels like liquefied natural gas (LNG), which have minimal emission and spill impacts. WWF recently studied this fuel switching issue, outlining the significant benefit from the use of sustainably sourced LNG.
This week’s meetings are a success, in that they have put the HFO issue on the global regulator’s agenda and made space for future work. But in reality, human health, community well-being, and the global climate system can’t wait.
Slow motion international negotiations as we’ve seen at the UN on climate talks aren’t acceptable. And here in London, a quote from Winston Churchill comes to mind: “Sometimes doing your best is not good enough, sometimes you need to do what is required”. The IMO may be doing its best, but it’s clearly not what’s required when it comes to the use of dirty ship fuels.