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Clean Arctic Alliance Reaction to Norway’s Proposal for Arctic Ban on Polluting Heavy Fuel Oil in Svalbard

Clean Arctic Alliance calls on IMO member states to agree on stronger ban of HFO in Arctic ahead of November meeting

London, 9 November 2020:- Reacting to the November 6th announcement by the Norwegian government of its proposal to completely ban the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by shipping around the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard, Clean Arctic Alliance Lead Advisor Dr Sian Prior said:

“We welcome this important commitment by Norway to protect the waters around Svalbard from the risks of heavy fuel oil (HFO) spills, and its glaciers and sea ice from the impacts of black carbon emissions caused by the burning of HFO. Norway leads the way amongst Arctic nations in getting rid of HFO from Arctic waters, and is demonstrating international leadership by going above and beyond the weak ambitions of Arctic HFO ban currently being considered by the International Maritime Organization.”

The announcement of Norway’s proposal states that “Heavy oil spills can do great damage in the Arctic due to the vulnerable ecosystems and how heavy oil behaves at low temperatures and ice. If such oil is released in the event of an accident on Svalbard, it could lead to major and long-term damage to the environment. In addition, large distances, ice, cold and poor access to oil spill response resources mean that emergency preparedness and clean-up will be difficult and expensive.The Ministry of Climate and the Environment is now sending the proposal for public consultation” [1]. HFO has been banned from Svalbard’s national park waters since 2015, and has been banned in Antarctic waters since 2011 [2].

In February 2020, the IMO and its member states developed a draft regulation prohibiting the use and carriage as fuel of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in the Arctic. However, the inclusion of loopholes in the draft regulation – in the form of exemptions and waivers – means that a HFO ban will not come into effect until mid-2029, leaving the Arctic exposed to the growing threat of HFO spills for the whole of the 2020s – nearly a decade [3].

According to recent analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation, as currently drafted, the regulation will only reduce the use of HFO by 16% and the carriage of HFO as fuel by 30% when it takes effect in July 2024, and will allow 74% of Arctic shipping to continue with business as usual [4]. Between July 2024 and July 2029, when the ban becomes fully effective, the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic is likely to increase as shipping in the Arctic increases, and as newer ships replace older vessels and are able to take advantage of the exemption or change flag and seek a waiver from the ban [5].

“If the IMO’s Arctic HFO ban is approved as currently drafted, it will expose the Arctic to even greater risks associated with HFO throughout the 2020s. Norway’s commitment to protect the waters and environment of Svalbard must serve as the impetus for greater ambition from Arctic states to agree to a stronger and effective ban on this dirty shipping fuel throughout the Arctic”, said Prior.

As drafted, with the five central Arctic coastal states able to issue waivers to their own flagged ships and by-pass the ban, the regulation is not flag-neutral. It will create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement in the Arctic, along with lower standards and negative environmental consequences in Arctic territorial seas and exclusive economic zones. This version of the ban could also potentially lead to transboundary pollution.

On Wednesday, 18 November, the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75) is scheduled (virtually) to approve the draft Arctic HFO regulation [6].

“In response to the inherent weakness of this draft ban, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling for IMO Arctic Member States to mirror Norway’s leadership, and to strengthen and improve the draft Arctic HFO regulation by removing or amending the exemption and the waiver clauses, and by bringing forward the implementation dates. Failure to do so will result in the approval of a ‘paper ban’ on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil – devoid of any meaningful protection for the Arctic”, concluded Prior.


Contacts: Dave Walsh, Communications Advisor, Clean Arctic Alliance, +34 691 826 764



[1] Norwegian Government: Foreslår tungoljeforbod for skip på Svalbard (Proposal for heavy oil ban for ships on Svalbard), 6 November 2020

Consultation – draft law on amendments to the Environmental Protection Act on Svalbard 15 June 2001 no. 79 (Svalbard Environmental Protection Act), 6 November 2020

6 November 2020,NRK: The government wants a heavy oil ban for ships on Svalbard

6 November 2020, The Barents Observer:Ban on heavy fuel oil coming to all of Svalbard
Heavy fuel oil poses a severe risk to Arctic environment and a ban in all waters around Svalbard is the logic way to eliminate the risk, the Norwegian Government says.

[2] Heavy fuel oil ban in the protected areas, Svalbard since 2015

Use or carriage of heavy grade oils in the Antarctic (Regulation 43 of MARPOL Annex I)

[3] Report To The Marine Environment Protection Committee PPR 7/22/Add.1, 24 April 2020. Annexes 1 to 22 to the report of the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response on its seventh session (PPR 7/22).
Annex 12, Page1: Draft Amendments To MARPOL Annex I(Prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil by ships in Arctic waters)

[4] The International Maritime Organization’s Proposed Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Ban: Likely Impacts and Opportunities for Improvement, A White Paper from The International Council on Clean Transportation, September 2020.

The IMO’s proposed Arctic heavy fuel oil (HFO) ban, ICCT Fact Sheet, September 2020.

The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) White Paper shows that in the last four years, there has been a 19% increase in the carriage of HFO by ships operating in the Arctic and a 75% increase in HFO use in the Arctic. This has resulted in a 72% increase in black carbon emissions from ships burning HFO and a 85% increase when all shipping black carbon emissions are considered.

The White Paper goes on to show that the exemptions and waivers proposed for inclusion in the Arctic HFO ban regulation would mean that in 2024 when the regulation is anticipated to come into force, there would only be a 16% decrease in the amount of HFO being used in the Arctic and a 30% drop in the volume of HFO being carried by ships in the Arctic (based on 2019 shipping data). Black carbon emissions would only decrease by 5%.

[5] 3 September 2020: Clean Arctic Alliance Slams Proposed Arctic Shipping Regulation as Full of Dangerous Loopholes – “Now it’s clear the IMO’s proposed ban on HFO use in the Arctic is a ban in name only”.

[6] International Maritime Organization meeting schedule:


Banning Heavy Fuel Oil from the Arctic

Heavy fuel oil is a dirty and polluting fossil fuel that powers ships throughout our seas and oceans – accounting for 80% of marine fuel used worldwide. Around 80% of marine fuel currently carried in the Arctic is HFO; over half by vessels flagged to non-Arctic states – countries that have little if any connection to the Arctic.


As Arctic heating drives sea ice melt and opens up Arctic waters further, even larger non-Arctic state-flagged vessels running on HFO are likely to divert to Arctic waters in search of shorter journey times. This, combined with an increase in Arctic state-flagged vessels targeting previously non-accessible resources, will greatly increase the risks of HFO spills in areas that are difficult to reach, and that lack any significant oil spill containment equipment.

Already banned in Antarctic waters, if HFO is spilled in cold polar waters, it breaks down slowly, proving almost impossible to clean up. A HFO spill would have long-term devastating effects on Arctic Indigenous communities, livelihoods and the marine ecosystems they depend upon. It isn’t only the impact of a heavy fuel spill that is a concern, HFO is also a greater source of harmful emissions of air pollutants, such as sulphur oxide, and particulate matter, including black carbon, than alternative fuels such as distillate fuel and liquefied natural gas (LNG). When emitted and deposited on Arctic snow or ice, the climate warming effect of black carbon is up to five times more than when emitted at lower latitudes, such as in the tropics.

The Clean Arctic Alliance believes that the global shipping fleet needs to move forward towards new, zero carbon solutions for propulsion. This will alleviate the threats from spills, as well as beneficial effects for our global climate and the air quality in the areas around shipping ports

About the Clean Arctic Alliance

The following not-for-profit organisations form the Clean Arctic Alliance, which is committed to a ban on HFO as marine fuel in the Arctic:

90 North Unit, The Altai Project, Alaska Wilderness League, Bellona, Clean Air Task Force, Green Transition Denmark, Ecology and Development Foundation ECODES, Environmental Investigation Agency, European Climate Foundation, Friends of the Earth US, Greenpeace, Iceland Nature Conservation Association, International Climate Cryosphere Initiative, Nature And Biodiversity Conservation Union, Ocean Conservancy, Pacific Environment, Seas At Risk, Surfrider Foundation Europe, Stand.Earth, Transport & Environment and WWF. For more information visit