A chill on environmental protection as Arctic shipping heats up
The International Maritime Organization (IMO) met last week to shape the Polar Code, a legally binding set of rules for shipping in polar regions. Although the final Polar Code won’t be adopted this year, recommendations made now will strongly influence the environmental provisions of the final Code.
“The provisions proposed on environmental protection issues are simply too weak”, says Lars Erik Mangset, Advisor for WWF-Norway. “Major risks, like acute pollution from heavy fuel oil, are not even addressed. And although the Polar Code is legally binding, many of the most pressing issues have been placed in the voluntary section of the code or deferred to later discussions, potentially outside the Code.”
Rapid warming in the Arctic has led to the opening up of commercial sea routes in the region. While destination ship traffic in and out of the Arctic is expected the greatest traffic increase the next decades, transport over the Northern Sea Route (above Russia and Scandinavia) has seen substantial growth over the past few years and is in particular being targeted as a route for tanker and bulk traffic. Increased traffic in these waters, coupled with the fact that the Arctic is up to 95% unsurveyed and chart coverage is generally inadequate for coastal navigation, means that the risks of operating should be matched with suitable precautionary measures in order to protect the environment. For example, banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in sensitive areas would reduce the environmental impacts of a spill significantly.
“Arctic shipping will expand massively in the next few decades. The recommendations are disappointing, but they are not yet set in stone. Arctic countries have an opportunity now to advocate world-class environmental protection measures, which this region needs and deserves”, says Dr. Simon Walmsley, Marine Manager for WWF-International.
Solid international and domestic legislation, respectively in the Antarctic and in Canada, sets a good precedent. Canada already in place close to zero-tolerance limit on oil and oily discharge and other waste streams from ships, and has advocated for similar provisions in the Polar Code. This is a positive precedence for other Arctic states to follow.
WWF is calling on IMO member states to commit to meaningful environmental protection in the Polar Code, through a ban on heavy fuel oil in the Arctic, as well as heightened restrictions on operational discharges, carbon emissions and the spread of alien species in ballast water.
Lars Erik Mangset
Advisor Shipping and Climate, WWF-Norway
Mobile: +47 93 20 94 94
Dr. Simon Walmsley,
Marine Manager WWF-International
About WWF’s Global Arctic Programme
WWF is working with its many partners – governments, business and communities – across the Arctic to combat these threats and preserve the region’s rich biodiversity. The WWF Global Arctic Programme has coordinated WWF's work in the Arctic since 1992. We work through offices in six Arctic countries, with experts in circumpolar issues like governance, climate change, fisheries, oil and gas and polar bears.
WWF is one of the world’s largest and most respected independent conservation organizations, with almost five million supporters and a global network active in more than 100 countries. WWF’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.