IMO progress on black carbon in Arctic ‘welcome but long overdue’

The decision at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to recommend to its environment committee a definition of black carbon arrived at by scientific consensus, after four years of debate, has been welcomed by environmental NGO Transport & Environment. Lack of agreement at sub-committee level had been holding up technical work to calibrate and test black carbon measurement methods that could be used to evaluate control measures as well as monitoring and engine certification technology.

The IMO would then focus on measures to reduce black carbon. The deposition of black carbon from ships and other sources on ice and snow in the Arctic accelerates ice melting by reducing the albedo effect – the ability to reflect sunlight back into space. The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is set to agree in May on a definition – reached in 2013 by Dr Tami Bond and a group of 29 eminent scientists from international institutes – which identifies its four major characteristics.

Bill Hemmings, clean shipping manager at Transport & Environment, a member of the Clean Shipping Coalition (CSC) that has observer status at the IMO, said: “This agreement on a definition is welcome but long overdue as increasing black carbon emissions from shipping can accelerate the melting of Arctic ice. Now the IMO can focus on evaluating which measurement technologies and control measures can be deployed.”

Mr Hemmings concluded: “As international shipping increases, particularly near and in Arctic waters due to the accelerating ice melt opening up new shipping routes, it is imperative that the shipping industry takes measures to curb black carbon emissions. The simplest way to do this is to ban the use of heavy fuel oil, HFO, to power ships. HFO is already being phased out in certain regions and the IMO plans a worldwide ban in 2020 unless scrubber technologies are used.”

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