As Arctic sea ice melts due to global warming, the region — which has warmed at about twice the rate of the rest of the world over the last 100 years — is facing an unprecedented increase in shipping activity within its waters. The loss of Arctic sea ice enables greater access to natural resources that will likely bring about increased regional shipping associated with exploiting these resources, especially oil and gas, minerals and timber. Trans-Arctic commercial ship travel along the coasts of Russia and Canada will also expand, since the Arctic passages can be up to 5,000 miles shorter, saving shippers time and fuel costs compared with traditional routes. Finally, Arctic cruise ship travel, which grew 400 percent between 2004 and 2007, will increase further. Increased Arctic shipping raises threats not only to human health and safety, but also to the Arctic’s pristine environment. Presently, the sensitive Arctic marine ecosystem is not adequately protected against the water and air pollution brought by ships. Wastewater dumping, oily bilge water discharges, oil/fuel spill risks, toxic air pollutants and climate-forcing emissions of black carbon are just some of the harms associated with increased ship traffic.
Friends of the Earth is working to help develop a robust, comprehensive Polar Code at the IMO — including a subsequent phase for non-SOLAS vessels (e.g., fishing vessels) — as well as craft navigational measures, such as recommended routes, for the U.S. Arctic that will minimize risk of environmental harm and adverse impacts to coastal residents, including native peoples.
Our infographic details how the use of heavy fuel oil increases the impact of oil spills and produces harmful air and climate pollutants.