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Arctic Sea ice crisis: World leaders must cut emissions to curb Arctic heating



Responding to reports that the annual freeze of the Laptev Sea is delayed, and is being driven by prolonged heat in northern Russia and the intrusion of Atlantic waters into the Arctic, the Clean Arctic Alliance reiterated its call to world leaders to take urgent action to slow Arctic heating ahead of this month meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75), calling for  at least a 60% global greenhouse gas emissions, and a 90% cut to black carbon emissions in the Arctic. [1,2].

“As we all know, what happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay in the Arctic - and the changes rapidly impacting the Arctic will have repercussions for all of us. The Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on world leaders to take urgent action to curb Arctic heating, by accelerating national and regional policies and practices that will fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement, especially that of limiting the increase in temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius – requiring an at least 60% reduction in climate emissions by 2030, something to which the European Parliament has already agreed upon”, said John Maggs, Senior Policy Advisor at Seas at Risk - a Clean Arctic Alliance member, and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition [3].

“Science shows that the planet has not experienced CO2 levels this high for three million years [4]. As the slow start to this winter’s freezing of the Laptev Sea is demonstrating, and with global mean temperatures already showing an increase of 1.1° Celsius and the Arctic heating twice as much, unless urgent and collective action is taken, a 2° Celsius increase will prove a disaster to human health and wellbeing, our economies and the environment”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“As well as reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, every effort must be made to reduce emissions of short-lived climate forcers such as methane and black carbon - most dramatically in the Arctic, where black carbon emissions must be cut by over 90%”, added Prior. “At a time when the global mantra is to reduce emissions, it is unacceptable that in the shipping sector, emissions of black carbon are actually growing.”

“The loss of sea ice not only allows for greater access to the Arctic and its resources by ships and maritime industries, but it also lengthens the time over which ships can operate in the Arctic. These activities drive an increase in the risks to the Arctic, its communities and its wildlife – risks of heavy fuel and distillate oil spills, increased black carbon emissions, increased underwater noise, and discharges of greywater and scrubber wastes”, continued Prior.

Recently published work by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body responsible for regulating international shipping, shows that globally shipping black carbon emissions have grown by 12 per cent between 2012 and 2018 [5], while work from the International Council on Clean Transportation found that in the Arctic black carbon emissions from the Arctic shipping fleet grew by 85 per cent in only four years between 2015 and 2019 [6].

The Clean Arctic Alliance is calling on world leaders to take the following urgent action to slow the impacts of global heating on the Arctic:

  • Show leadership by example, by accelerating national and regional policies and practices that will fulfill the goals of the Paris Agreement, especially that of limiting the increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius – requiring an at least 60% reduction in emissions by 2030.
  • Through the International Maritime Organization, adopt mandatory measures to reduce ship speed to effect deep immediate reductions in climate emissions from ships.
  • Agree an effective and credible International Maritime Organization regulation which bans the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil by Arctic shipping from January 2024 – without exemptions or waivers for any vessels. See: Clean Arctic Alliance Slams Proposed Arctic Shipping Regulation as Full of Dangerous Loopholes.
  • Support a mandatory International Maritime Organization regulation requiring ships to switch from heavy fuels to distillate fuels (or other cleaner fuels) in the Arctic, and install efficient particulate filters in vessels, in order to reduce black carbon emissions by over 90% in the Arctic region, where black carbon emissions are especially damaging.

 IMO Virtual Meeting - MEPC 75 - November 2020
The Clean Arctic Alliance, which comprises 21 international non-profit organisations, is campaigning for a robust and effective International Maritime Organization (IMO) ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by shipping in the Arctic, while advocating for shipping to decrease its climate impact, particularly through reductions in black carbon emissions.

However, the ban currently under development by the IMO, if adopted, will be a ban in name only. The draft Arctic HFO ban regulation will be discussed during a meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee from 16-20 November 2020 (MEPC75), which will be the first MEPC meeting held virtually.

During the meeting:

  • NGOs will draw attention to the inadequate impact and effectiveness of the draft regulation banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters.
  • Recently published work indicates that loopholes in the draft regulation mean that only 30% of HFO carriage and 16% of HFO use would be banned when the regulation comes into effect as proposed in 2024, and incredibly, that it is likely that the amount of HFO carried and used in the Arctic will increase following the ban taking effect.
  • Despite the dramatic changes occuring in the Arctic due to global warming, the risk to the Arctic from emissions of black carbon from shipping is not likely to be addressed at MEPC 75. The Clean Arctic Alliance will however continue to push for the development and adoption of an MEPC Black Carbon resolution which would set out recommended interim measures pending completion of IMO work to identify and implement one or more Black Carbon abatement measures.

Read: What to expect: Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 75) – November 16-20 2020

“In light of the inadequacies identified during its recent webinar, the Clean Arctic Alliance does not support the International Maritime Organization (IMO) Arctic HFO regulation (or ban) as currently drafted and is calling on IMO Member States to modify the draft regulation before it is approved”, said Prior. “It is essential that the ban on HFO use and carriage as fuel in the Arctic is ‘fit for purpose; and enters into force quickly and provides the Arctic with the level of protection that it so desperately and urgently needs”.

Under the draft IMO Arctic HFO regulation, exemptions and waivers will allow 74% of HFO-fueled ships to continue using HFO in the Arctic until mid-2029. As a result, only 30% of HFO carriage and 16% of HFO use will be banned under the current proposal and it is likely that the amount of HFO carried and used in the Arctic will actually increase following the ban taking effect in 2024.

In addition, according to legal advice provided to the Clean Arctic Alliance, the waiver raises some serious concerns. The regulation is not flag-neutral, and this will have negative environmental consequences. It will result in lower environmental standards in Arctic territorial seas and exclusive economic zones than in the Arctic high seas areas, and create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement. It could also maintain the risk of a catastrophic HFO spill in Arctic waters and fail to address trans-boundary pollution risks.

Read more about HFO and Black Carbon at MEPC75 


[1] The Conversation: Where’s the sea ice? 3 reasons the Arctic freeze is unseasonably late and why it matters, 28 October, 28, Mark Serreze Research Professor of Geography and Director, National Snow and Ice Data Center, University of Colorado Boulder

“Streams of warmer water from the Atlantic Ocean flow into the Arctic at the Barents Sea. This warmer, saltier Atlantic water is usually fairly deep under the more buoyant Arctic water at the surface. Lately, however, the Atlantic water has been creeping up. That heat in the Atlantic water is helping to keep ice from forming and melting existing sea ice from below.”

US National Snow and Ice Data Centre, 5 October 2020: “Following the sea ice extent minimum on September 15, 2020, expansion of the ice edge has been most notable in the northern Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The ice edge along the Laptev Sea continued to retreat farther.”

Alarm as Arctic sea ice not yet freezing at latest date on record
Zac Labe

Further news this week published indicates that “frozen methane deposits in the Arctic Ocean… have started to be released over a large area of the continental slope off the East Siberian coast” at depth of 350 metres in the Laptev Sea... prompting concern among researchers that a new climate feedback loop may have been triggered that could accelerate the pace of global heating”.
'Sleeping giant' Arctic methane deposits starting to release, scientists find, Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, October 27, 2020

[2] Clean Arctic Alliance, 22 September 2020 - Arctic Sea Ice Loss: World Leaders Must Arrest Arctic Climate Change Impacts

[3] Euractiv, October 7th, EU Parliament votes for 60% carbon emissions cut by 2030 

The September 22nd statement by the Clean Arctic Alliance called for a 50% emissions cut - we have now revised this upwards to match the EU vote.

[4] The Arctic hasn’t been this warm for 3 million years – and that foreshadows big changes for the rest of the planet - Julie Brigham-Grette, Professor of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst and Steve Petsch Associate Professor of Geosciences, University of Massachusetts Amherst, The Conversation, September 30, 2020

[5] MEPC 75/7/15: Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships: Fourth IMO GHG Study 2020 – Final report

[6] International Council on Clean Transportation, Black carbon emissions and fuel use in global shipping, 2015

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, click here.



AWA welcomes first deposit from Kazakhstan



The Arctic World Archive (AWA) has welcomed the constitution of Kazakhstan to its growing repository of world memory.

In a ceremony, attended by the Ambassador of Kazakhstan to Norway Yerkin Akhinzhanov, Minister-Counsellor and Deputy head of Mission Talgat Zhumagulov, Counsellor Ilyas Omarov, and First Secretary Azat Matenov from the Embassy of Kazakhstan in Norway, the piqlFilm reel holding the constitution, other important information and historical images were stored forever as a time capsule for future generations.

Kazakhstan now joins Mexico and Brazil as nations that have deposited constitutions.

‘On the eve of the Day of National Symbols of Kazakhstan, information files including the state flag, emblem, anthem, the Constitution, and the Law on State Independence of the Republic of Kazakhstan dated December 16, 1991, were placed in the Archive. This is an important day for our nation, with our contribution now part of this repository of global memory,’ said Mr Akhinzhanov.

Hosted by Piql’s Managing Director Rune Bjerkestrand and Deputy Director Katrine Loen, the delegates received a guided tour of the vault and the growing collection of masterpieces and historic and contemporary treasures stored safely for centuries.

‘I am very proud to welcome the Kazakhstan constitution to AWA as a contribution to world memory and look forward to future Kazakh deposits,’ Mr Bjerkestrand said.

This is the first deposit from the Republic of Kazakhstan and represents the 16th nation to deposit in AWA.

Piql, the technology behind perpetual digital storage

The Arctic World Archive was founded in 2017 by the Norwegian company Piql AS, which in 2002 developed an innovative technology of transforming 35-millimeter photosensitive film into a digital data carrier.

This innovative method is a response to the changing needs of the digital revolution. Global digital assets double every 2 years, about 10% of hard drives fail after 4 years, the cost of digital data security is increasing every year.

piqlFilm is currently the safest and most durable data carrier in the world, tested to survive for over 1000 years. Szymborska’s works have been stored both digitally and as a visual representation.

Piql services are offered around the world through a network of trusted partners.

The Arctic World Archive

AWA is located 300 metres inside a decommissioned coal mine on the remote Norwegian Island of Svalbard, holding digital treasures from around the world.

Svalbard was chosen as the location for a global memory repository, for its status as a declared demilitarised zone by 42 nations, offering both geographical and political stability. Further, the cool dry permafrost conditions increase the longevity of the stored data.

In this era, much of our heritage is stored digitally and, despite best efforts to protect it for the future, it can be exposed to risks, either from the online environment or just from the limits of modern storage technology.

The combination of resilient long-term storage technology and the safety offered by AWA, data will live on into the distant future.

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Ocean conservation: EU leads the international effort to establish new Marine Protected Areas in Antarctica



Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius has hosted a ministerial meeting to build support among the members of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) for the designation of new Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Southern Ocean, in particular the EU proposals to establish MPAs in East Antarctica and in the Weddell Sea. The meeting was key in shaping a joint strategy to work together towards the adoption of new MPAs in CCAMLR and to present the Commission's actions under the European Green Deal that contribute to protecting the Antarctica. Speaking after the meeting, Commissioner Sinkevičius said: “Biodiversity loss and the climate crises are going faster than we had ever anticipated. It is critical to act now, if we are to turn the tide and conserve the rich and vulnerable marine life of the Southern Ocean. I am glad that we all expressed our commitment today in a joint declaration for the world's largest marine protected area which would cover more than 3 million km2. I particularly want to thank the U.S. and New Zealand for joining the other active co-sponsors in protecting that area around Antarctica.” The ministerial meeting was a success in bringing further support for the Marine Protected Areas in East Antarctica and in the Weddell Sea with co-sponsorship announced by the United States and New Zealand. The designation of new Antarctic marine protected areas remains a high priority for the EU and its Member States and is a key deliverable of both the EU's Biodiversity Strategy 2030, adopted last May, and of the EU's International Ocean Governance agenda. More information is in our press release.

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#Arctic policy: EU opens consultation on the future approach



On 20 July, the European Commission and the European External Action Service jointly launched a public consultation on the way forward for the European Union's Arctic policy. The consultation will enable a broad reflection on the EU's Arctic policy in the face of new challenges and opportunities, including the EU's ambitions under the European Green Deal. The consultation seeks input on the strengths and shortfalls of the existing policy, with a view to possibly preparing an updated approach.

High Representative/Vice President Josep Borrell said: “The Arctic is a rapidly evolving frontier in international relations. Climate change is dramatically transforming the region, and increasing its geopolitical importance, with a number of players seeing new strategic and economic opportunities in the High North. We must ensure that the Arctic remains a zone of low tension and peaceful co-operation, where issues are solved through constructive dialogue. The European Union must be fully equipped to manage the new dynamics effectively, in line with our interests and values.”

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “What happens in the Arctic, does not stay in the Arctic. It concerns us all. The EU must be at the forefront with a clear and coherent Arctic policy to tackle the challenges in the years ahead. Drawing on a wide spectrum of expertise and opinions through this consultation, will help us in preparing a strong strategy for the region.”

The consultation will help to:

i) Re-examine the role of the EU in Arctic affairs;
ii) revise the three priorities of the current Joint Communication on An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic, and the actions thereunder, and;
iii) identify possible new policy areas to be developed.

Fighting climate change and its impacts and protecting the environment are key objectives for the region. Promoting sustainable development in the Arctic to the benefit of those who live there, including indigenous peoples is another priority for the EU. To that end, continuously improving our knowledge of the changes happening in the Arctic region, as well as identifying sustainable responses, is essential. Science, innovation and strong support for multilateral cooperation underpin the EU's approach to the Arctic.


The EU's Arctic policy has been updated regularly since it was first outlined in 2008. The EU's current Arctic policy is set out in a Joint Communication from 2016. In December 2019, the Council has invited the Commission and the High Representative to continue implementation, whilst initiating a process in order to update the EU Arctic Policy. The current policy centres around three priorities: climate change and safeguarding the Arctic environment; sustainable development in and around the Arctic; and international cooperation on Arctic issues. The public consultation launched today is open until 6 November 2020.

More information

Joint Communication on An integrated European Union policy for the Arctic



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