Polar seas protection on ice

Posted on 27 February 2012  | 
Due to procedural objections by mostly non-polar states and the industry lobby, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations body tasked with developing shipping regulations, shelved the development of the environmental section of the Polar Code until 2013, increasing the risk of harm to both the Arctic and Antarctic. 

This is a major setback for polar environmental protection; considering how quickly the polar environment is changing and how sensitive these areas are, these rules need to be developed sooner rather than later.

“A delay in protecting these fragile seas is bad enough,” says Dr. Simon Walmsley, Marine Manager for WWF International. “Of most concern is the attempt to altogether halt the development of rules to decrease the environmental impact from polar shipping.”

Rapid warming in the Arctic particularly has led to the opening up of sea routes in the area. Both the Northern Sea Route (above Russia and Scandinavia) and the Northwest Passage (above Alaska and Canada) have seen substantial increases in shipping over the past few years. The Northern Sea route in particular is being targeted as a route for tanker and bulk traffic. Shipping through the Northern Sea Route increased by three times between 2010 and 2011.

“The rules that could be instituted by a polar code are essential for making this increased traffic safer and more environmentally responsible,” says Lars Erik Mangset, Shipping and Climate Advisor at WWF Norway.

“These rules could limit emissions and discharges of pollutants to both the air and water, they could also help to limit climate change impacts, and reduce disturbance and strikes of marine mammals. The longer the Polar Regions are deprived of these protections, the greater the risk. It is unacceptable that these globally important areas are deprived of environmental protection and that commercial interests without a stake in the future of Polar Regions should override the development of environmental protection. ”

WWF is calling on all states and commercial interests to work on developing the environmental chapter of the IMO Polar Code without delay to ensure the protection of these globally significant Polar Regions from harmful effects of shipping activities.

For more information:

Dr. Simon Walmsley, Marine Manager
WWF International:
Cell: +44 79 20 02 33 18;
Email: swalmsley@wwf.org.uk

Lars Erik Mangset, Advisor Shipping and Climate
WWF Norway:
Cell: +47 93 20 94 94;
Email: lemangset@wwf.no

Web: www.panda.org/arctic

About WWF

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.

Shipping in the Arctic is already increasing. It brings with it the possibility of more jobs, but also potential dangers. The Northwest Passage route (over the top of Canada) would save two weeks in travelling time versus the Panama Canal, while the Northern Sea Route (over the top of Russia) is considered an even better bet in terms of its navigability. Although the routes will not be open year round, companies are already investing billions of dollars in tankers capable of going through ice.
© WWF / Bryan Alexander/www.arcticphoto.com Enlarge

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