UN resolution to reduce black carbon hailed as “good first step” for the Arctic


By Clara Pasieka

The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted a voluntary measure that could have significant impacts on black carbon emissions in the Arctic.

Canada co-sponsored the resolution calling for the use of cleaner fuels by ships operating in the Arctic to encourage reductions in black carbon emissions in the region.

Carbon black is an emerging and growing problem in the Arctic, according to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program, the science arm of the Arctic Council, said Walt Meier, senior researcher at National Snow and Ice Data Center.

The Arctic Council has found that Arctic shipping has increased by 25% over the past nine years, in part because it has become more viable due to melting ice, said Andrew Dumbrille , Senior Shipping and Conservation Specialist at World Wildlilfe Fund-Canada.

Fondant effect

Black carbon – fine particles that exist through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels – lands on snow and ice when a ship passes through, Meier said. It affects the albedo, the whiteness of the surface, so the sun is absorbed, causing the snow and ice to melt, he said.

Accelerated melting of ice and snow is already a problem due to greenhouse gases and global warming, and black carbon is already making the problem worse, he said.


Carbon black has a greenhouse gas-like effect, Dumbrille said.

While particle landing is a concern, the local warming of the temperature in the air around an emission source is also an issue, Dumbrille said.

Climate change is being felt most strongly in the Arctic, where warming is occurring two to three times faster than the global average, Meier said, and regulations have not caught up.

“On the contrary, we need more stringent regulations in the Arctic than in the mid-latitudes, because it’s a more sensitive environment,” Meier said.

North of the 60th parallel, emission standards are currently lower than those for southern Canadian waters.

“Good first step”

The resolution that was adopted at the IMO is “a good first step towards decarbonization,” said Dumbrille, a sentiment shared by others.

It’s a voluntary call for ships to switch to distillate, lighter and cleaner fuels instead of the residual fuels that many ships currently burn, which are heavier and produce more black carbon.

Paul Blomerus, executive director of Clear Seas, an independent, non-profit research center that supports safe and sustainable shipping in Canada, said just because it’s voluntary doesn’t mean this decision should be overturned.

“Most pollution control measures started as voluntary protective measures,” said Blomerus. “This is an indication of the start of a process that will lead to significant reductions.”

The costs

The change will have a financial cost and one that will be borne by someone, Blomerus said.

Clear Seas, in partnership with the Canadian Alliance for Natural Gas Vehicles and Vard Marine, conducted a feasibility study on natural gas in the marine arctic which found that switching from residual fuels to distillate fuels could cost more. 40% more.

The Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC) has actively fought for action on this issue.

“We depend on the snow, the ice coast and the marine ecosystem for our transportation and food security,” said Lisa Koperqualuk, ICC International Vice President.

While Inuit communities depend on the Arctic shipping fleet for their resupply, they want to see their arctic environment, sea, ice and coasts protected and are very concerned about the effects of black carbon causing the melting of the sea. ice cream, she said.

The board recognizes that there are costs associated with changing fuel.

“We demanded and supported the creation of a transition fund by the government to offset the costs borne by the industry,” said Koperqualuk, adding that “the communities should not bear the cost of protecting the environment. “.

Sau Sau Liu, senior communications advisor for Transport Canada, told CBC News that the federal government will continue to subsidize the cost of goods shipped to northern communities through various programs that address the cost of living and impacts. on Food Security in Communities in Northern Canada.

What happens next

Unlike other environmental damage, black carbon and its effects are “quite easily reversible,” Meier said.

Ships already in use can change fuel types overnight, Blomerus said.

This would have a financial implication, and potentially an enormous environmental one.

Black carbon accounts for a fifth of the global climate impact of the shipping industry, Dumbrille said.

On average, a ship switching from residual fuel to distillate fuel will result in an estimated 44% decrease in black carbon emissions, but the difference could be as high as 80%, he said.

Canada seeks to implement a ban on the use and transport of heavy fuel oil in Arctic waters by July 2024, Liu said.

Canada is also working with other countries to measure black carbon and improve air pollution protections in Canada north of the 60th parallel, she said.

This story is published on the Barents Observer as part of Eye on the Arctic, a collaborative partnership between public and private circumpolar media organizations.


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