Ship Shape: Emerging Threat in the Arctic — Polar Shipping
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After a recent and unprecedented victory to reduce shipping air pollution in North America with the adoption of an Emission Control Area — precipitated by domestic and international advocacy from Friends of the Earth — our organization is turning its attention to vessel pollution in the Arctic waters of the frozen North. Nowhere in the world is the pollution from vessels more destructive than near the poles, and there is virtually no legal framework to regulate this new activity.
More than 3,000 vessels currently operate in the Arctic. Shipping activity in the region is growing rapidly because of dwindling sea ice and the presence of valuable natural resources such as oil and gas. As climate change intensifies, sea ice levels are expected to decrease even further, perhaps resulting in a seasonally ice-free Arctic as early as 2013. These ships bring with them – and leave behind – toxic air emissions, sewage discharges, and marine mammal disturbances. All of these impacts from vessels threaten the air, water, and climate of the Arctic, as well as the indigenous peoples that rely on the natural resources of the region.
In response, Friends of the Earth and its partner organization, the Antarctic and Southern Ocean Coalition, are supporting the international development of a mandatory set of requirements for Arctic and Antarctic shipping called the Polar Code. Friends of the Earth has already submitted written recommendations to the International Maritime Organization for restrictions on polar shipping, and we are actively participating in a working group on the Polar Code proposal, providing us with the opportunity to continue to push for a strong set of rules for shipping at both poles. Friends of the Earth will strive to ensure that the Code contains stringent environmental safeguards in addition to key safety provisions. These measures include stricter requirements for air and water pollution discharges, reduced marine mammal disturbances including noise and the threat of mortality from ships strikes, improved pollution emergency response capabilities, and robust ship monitoring and enforcement standards. The Arctic Ocean, its marine life, and surrounding peoples deserve strong protection from the threats posed by vessel pollution.