Oil companies asked to explain how their new super pollutant shipping fuels have come to market

Responding to the discovery that some of the new blended low sulphur shipping fuels developed and marketed by oil companies to comply with IMO 2020 air pollution standards will actually lead to a surge in the emissions of a super pollutant known as Black Carbon, the Clean Arctic Alliance is calling for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to support an immediate switch to distillate fuels for ships in the Arctic and develop a global rule prohibiting fuels with high Black Carbon emissions.

“If immediate action isn’t taken by the International Maritime Organization, the shipping industry’s use of very low sulphur fuel oil – introduced to comply with the 2020 sulphur cap – will lead to a massive increase in Black Carbon emissions, and this will both accelerate the melting of Arctic sea ice and have a major impact on Earth’s climate,” said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations working for a ban on heavy fuel oil for Arctic shipping.

Very low sulphur fuel oils have been introduced in response to the 2020 sulphur cap, the IMO’s regulation that enforces a global fuel sulphur limit for shipping at 0.50% from 1 January 2020, in order to protect human health and the environment. A paper submitted by Germany and Finland to the IMO’s PPR7 meeting in February found that these new blends contain high levels of aromatic compounds which, when combusted, lead to an increase in emissions of Black Carbon when compared with heavier fuels and distillate fuels. Black carbon is a short-lived climate forcer, second only to CO2 in terms of international shipping’s contribution to global climate. Black Carbon represents 7% to 21% of shipping’s overall GHG equivalent impact on the climate.

“There are serious questions to be answered about how these blended super pollutant fuels ever came to market. It beggars belief that amidst a global climate crisis, the marine fuel industry could develop these very low sulphur fuel oils without knowing their effect on Black Carbon emissions and the climate, particularly in the Arctic – especially as the IMO has spent almost a decade considering how to reduce Black Carbon emissions from shipping,” said John Maggs, Senior Policy Advisor at Seas at Risk.

The Clean Arctic Alliance has written a letter containing the following questions to representatives of the marine fuel industry who prepared the definitive guidance on the supply and use of 0.5% sulphur marine fuel only months ago, to ask:
1. Were you aware that these new low sulphur heavy fuel blends had higher aromatic content?
2. Were you aware of the link between higher aromatic content in fuels and higher Black Carbon emissions?
3. If the answer to the above questions is “yes”, then why did you not immediately seek to halt the production of these fuels and alert the IMO?

Watch this space as further developments inevitably unfold as the debate rages.

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