Connect with us


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

EU Reporter Correspondent



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.

Continue Reading


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

EU Reporter Correspondent



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.


Continue Reading


#Arctic policy: EU opens consultation on the future approach

EU Reporter Correspondent



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



Continue Reading


#Nornickel - Latest accident highlights perils of industrializing the #Arctic

Colin Stevens



Just weeks after the worst industrial accident ever to hit the Arctic region unleashed 21,000 tonnes of diesel from one of Norilsk Nickel’s thermal power plants on a large swath of the surrounding Arctic wilderness, the mining giant has claimed that the lion’s share of the spilled fuel has been collected. The company, according to its president Vladimir Potanin – who’s also Russia’s richest man, worth over $25 billion - is now trying to figure out how to dispose of the pollution without further harming the environment, writes Colin Stevens.

But we shouldn’t celebrate just yet—Nornickel’s pronouncement that “most” of the fuel has been collected should be taken with a grain of salt, particularly given the company’s history of covering up accidents. Siberian authorities and environmental groups alike have warned that the industrial disaster would likely take years to fully clean up and that measures implemented by Nornickel would “help collect only a minor part of the pollution”. What’s more, floating dams intended to control the leak were either “ineffective or installed too late”, meaning that the spilled fuel managed to reach Lake Pyasino, a major source of water in the region.

Even if Nornickel has now managed to stop the contaminated water from flowing out of Lake Pyasino into the Pyasina River and, almost inevitably, into the Arctic Ocean, the spill has already caused untold devastation to the sensitive Arctic environment and left dead birds and fish in its wake. It’s also left us with two principal lessons: that Nornickel hasn’t changed its spots after a long history of environmental mismanagement, and that the industrialization of the Arctic may have ruinous consequences for the far north’s unique ecosystem.

Par for the course for Potanin’s Nornickel

The recent accident, compared to the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster, may have exceptionally severe consequences—but it’s just the latest example of Nornickel playing fast and loose with environmental safety. The firm, built on the backs of gulag prisoners, has earned Norilsk a reputation as one of the world’s most polluted cities as Nornickel’s smelters have sent clouds of toxins billowing across the Arctic. Unsurprisingly, life expectancy in Norilsk is significantly below average.

In 2016, meanwhile, the mining giant spent days denying reports of an incident—even while the nearby Daldykan River had turned blood red. After pitiful attempts to brush off the situation—including ludicrous claims that the vermilion colour was due to naturally-occurring clay in the river—Nornickel finally admitted that one of the filtration dams at its Nadezhda plant had sent iron slurry overflowing into the waterway.

Despite occasional pledges to clean up its act, Nornickel has shown little genuine commitment to reducing its environmental footprint, something which the recent oil spill has highlighted. Infuriated by the accident—and by a catastrophic two-day reporting delay, in which Nornickel employees tried to repair the leak themselves rather than informing authorities—Russian president Vladimir Putin didn’t hesitate to lay the blame directly at the door of the firm’s billionaire owner, Vladimir Potanin.

Potanin, who has run Nornickel for the past 25 years, has built his fortune thanks to the company’s generous dividends. According to documents, in 2020 alone he received almost $1.4 billion, on top of a $90 million salary. At the same time, investment in the company’s Soviet-era equipment has stagnated, with over 70% of the plant’s facilities being outdated. The last revamp occurred in 1972, while the mining and metallurgical complex in Norilsk  itself was built in the late 30s.

As one independent director at Nornickel explained to the FT, ““They don’t want to invest in modernisation, they try every which way to block even the most reasonable initiatives from the state.” He joins a chorus of voices from within the top rungs of the company’s  board demanding that more money be invested in staving off such accidents – so far, their calls have not been heard by Potanin. Moreover, Russia’s environmental watchdog had warned the mining giant back in 2016 about problems with the tanks. Officially, the collapsed tank was decommissioned to undergo a major refurbishment, but in reality, the company never stopped using it—something which Russian investigators believe may constitute criminal negligence.

For one official at the WWF, it should have been obvious to Norilsk management that “you have to replace metal oil containers over the course of 40 years”. The firm’s management, however, is headquartered in Moscow rather than on the ground in Siberia, calling into question their visibility on day-to-day issues, while reports claim Potanin manages the company either from his Moscow mansion or his home on the French Riviera. His lack of experience in the metals and mining sector before gaining a controlling stake in Norilsk Nickel in the 1990s’ notorious loans-for-shares scheme has also been fingered as one reason why the firm has been slow to modernise creaking equipment.

It’s no surprise that calls for Potanin to step down have multiplied in recent weeks, with generous media coverage dedicated to his high flying personal life, which includes a small fleet of private jets bought on the company dime.

What lessons for the Arctic?

The oil spill— which may cost Nornickel and its owner Vladimir Potanin $1.4bn —is likely to impress new urgency on Russian industrialists to audit crumbling infrastructure and put better environmental protection plans in place. But it should also be the catalyst for wide-ranging discussions about the extent to which the Arctic, a vital and largely heretofore unspoiled region, is being industrialized.

This March, the Kremlin published a 15-year masterplan laying out its ambitions to develop the polar region. At the centre of it was the development of the Northern Sea Route. The passage, which takes advantage of newly ice-free waterways to skirt Russia’s Arctic coast, has seen explosive increases in traffic in recent years as it cuts 40% of the travel time between Europe and Asia versus sailing via the Suez Canal. Other priorities outlined in the comprehensive scheme include building gargantuan nuclear-powered icebreakers to crack open year-round shipping lanes, offering tax rebates for drilling for fossil fuels and encouraging people to settle in the Arctic region.

Russia’s not alone in finding the Arctic a tempting target for industrialisation, with its convenient waterways and mineral-rich soil. Back in 2008, the European Commission’s first Arctic policy argued that the region’s environmental vulnerability was no reason not to exploit it, including by drilling for hydrocarbons. The European institutions now pay more lip service to protecting the far North’s fragile ecosystem, but still seek out economic opportunities in the Arctic.

The images of a sea of fuel making its way towards the Arctic Ocean in the wake of Nornickel’s latest accident have shone a fresh spotlight on the perils of putting profit over protecting the Arctic environment. How many more accidents will it take to convince policymakers to revamp their Arctic policies?

Continue Reading