OTTAWA — An international body that regulates worldwide shipping has agreed to stop the use of a highly polluting fuel in the Arctic.

But the International Maritime Organization will wait to implement a ban on heavy fuel oil until its impact on northern communities is complete, a caveat inserted at Canada’s request.

The organization will “develop a ban on (heavy fuel oil) for use and carriage as fuel by ships in Arctic waters, on an appropriate time scale,” said a spokesman for the United Nations-sponsored group from London, where meetings were taking place.

The organization also passed a proposal to force the shipping industry to cut its emissions in half by the middle of the century.

Heavy fuel oil, called by some the dirtiest fuel on the planet, presents major spill concerns.

“On land, it is considered hazardous waste,” said Kendra Ulrich of Stand.Earth, who was in London to observe the meetings.

Heavy fuel oil is also a major source of black carbon, which is considered a significant driver behind climate change because it darkens snow and ice and causes it to melt faster.

But because the soot doesn’t remain long in the environment, getting rid of it can result in quick improvements.  

Heavy fuel oil is already banned in the Antarctic.

The ban will now go to a separate committee which will develop concrete proposals to implement the ban. It will also consider how to ensure the ban doesn’t increase the cost of shipping to remote Arctic communities, in response to concerns from Canada.

“They are moving forward with a ban,” said Ulrich. “It’s really just a question of when.”

Her group is pressing the organization to move quickly, but Ulrich said the earliest a ban could be in place would be 2021.

“We’re looking at a huge stride forward, but these international bodies move slowly.”

The organization, with Canada’s support, also supported a proposal to require ships in international waters to reduce emissions to 50 per cent below what they were in 2008 by mid-century.

Only the United States and Saudi Arabia voted against the idea.

“Canada welcomes the agreement reached on an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international maritime shipping,” said Transport Canada spokeswoman Delphine Denis. 

“Canada will work with international partners to turn attention to developing concrete measures to ensure the initial greenhouse gas strategy begins to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international maritime shipping as soon as possible.”

The Canadian Press

The Canadian Press