New Polar Code a good first step, but lacks meaningful protections for the Arctic
OTTAWA – The International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2017, is a good first step, but still includes significant regulatory gaps of concern to WWF-Canada.
About the code
Better known as the Polar Code, the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters was agreed upon in 2014 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), an agency of the United Nations. It will provide a set of guidelines for ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The code is meant to protect ships and passengers as they navigate the harsh waters of the poles and protect the “unique environment and ecosystems of the polar regions,” according to the IMO.
Why the code matters
Climate change is affecting the Arctic twice as fast as anywhere else on Earth, and as a result of melting sea ice, ship traffic is only expected to increase in these ecologically rich and sensitive waters.
What the code lacks
These key protections are absent from the portions of the Polar Code that apply to Arctic waters:
- A phase-out of heavy fuel oil
- Already banned in the Antarctic, heavy fuel oil (HFO) is the most polluting of all marine fuel options, and will cause the most damage in the event of a spill.
- HFO contributes to climate change, as soot and black particles from exhaust settle on ice and snow, and soak up and magnify heat, accelerating the melting of sea ice.
- Harsh weather, limited resources and the remote nature of Arctic communities make oil-spill response and cleanup incredibly challenging. The risk of lasting damage to the fragile Arctic ecosystem is extremely high in the event of an HFO spill.
- Strict regulations on grey water discharge
- Grey water is the discharge from the sinks, showers and galleys on ships, but does not include drainage from toilets.
- In southern Canadian waters, grey water is clearly defined and has specific discharge regulations. The same doesn’t apply to the North, which means grey water can be freely discharged into the Arctic marine environment.
- WWF-Canada has urged Transport Canada to align grey water discharge regulations north of the 60th parallel with those in Alaska, which include strict requirements designed to monitor and protect the Arctic ecosystem.
- Increased consultation with Arctic communities
- The IMO has been working since 2009 to draft the Polar Code, and did not undertake a single consultation with coastal Arctic communities, which will be most affected in the event of a spill.
- Traditional knowledge of key marine-mammal habitats in the Arctic was given very limited consideration in the drafting of the Polar Code.
- October 2016 marked the first time members of Arctic indigenous communities were invited to speak at the IMO headquarters in London, England.
David Miller, president and CEO of WWF-Canada, says:
“The Polar Code is an opportunity to protect the Arctic ecosystem from the consequences of oil spills and increased shipping. It is disappointing that these protections were not achieved. We urge Transport Canada to lead by example, and fill in the regulatory gaps around heavy fuel oil use, grey water discharge and increased consultations with the coastal communities that will bear the brunt of the impact if the worst happens.”
About World Wildlife Fund Canada
WWF-Canada creates solutions to the environmental challenges that matter most for Canadians. We work in places that are unique and ecologically important, so that nature, wildlife and people thrive together. Because we are all wildlife. For more information, visit wwf.ca.
For further information
Megan Nesseth, communications specialist, email@example.com, +1 416-904-2482