Shipping emissions include black carbon, in addition to the emissions of other greenhouse gases, where black carbon is the second most important source of climate impacts from shipping emissions.1 Globally, black carbon emissions from shipping account for approximately 20% of shipping emission's warming potential.2 Estimates of emission in the Arctic depend on how the Arctic is defined. The Arctic Council Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane states that shipping currently accounts for about 5 percent of black carbon emissions in the Arctic.3 A study from ICCT found that black carbon emissions from ships increased 85% between 2015 and 2019. Near harbors, emissions from shipping can contribute to poor local air quality and is thus a health concern.
Sources and projections
A major culprit of emissions of black carbon is the use of Heavy Fuel Oils (HFOs), accounting for approximately two thirds of the black carbon emission from shipping in the Arctic.4
An Arctic emissions inventory from 2015 identified fishing vessels (25%), general cargo vessels (19%), and service vessels (12%) as the top three emitters of black carbon. 5 Globally, cruise vessels account for disproportionate amounts of emissions, where an average cruise ship has three times the emissions of black carbon of an average container ship. 6
Satellite tracking of ships and estimates of fuel use and combustion technologies indicate that most of the emissions occur along the coasts. However, icebreakers and research vessels contribute to black carbon emission all the way to the North Pole. Emission estimates for the Arctic depend on how the Arctic is defined, where the IMO definition excludes important, but ice free, shipping regions along the coasts of Norway, Iceland and south of Anchorage Alaska.7
Black carbon emissions (tonnes) in the Arctic, 2015. Reproduced with permission from Comer, B. et al. (2017) Prevalence of heavy fuel oil and black carbon in Arctic shipping, 2015 to 2025. International Council on Clean Transportation; https://theicct.org/publications/prevalence-heavy-fuel-oil-and-black-carbon-arctic-shipping-2015-2025
Shipping in the Arctic is increasing, especially along the coasts, where black carbon emissions in addition to the climate impacts also degrade local air quality, with potential health impacts. 8 The Arctic Shipping Status Report # 1, based on PAME’s Arctic Ship Traffic Database, showed that the number of unique ships in the Arctic Polar Code area has increased by 25% from 2013 to 2019. Most of them were fishing vessels. The distance sailed by all vessels increased by 75% in the same time period.
Estimates of future transpolar shipping are uncertain, where a major shift from using the Panama and Suez canals to polar routes seems unlikely. Nevertheless, even a small such shift (1-2%), could lead to a dramatic increase in Arctic black carbon emissions unless the increase of shipping in the Arctic is accompanied by a transition to less problematic fuels and emission controls.9
Reducing emissions: Fuels and filters
There are several ways to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping. Most efficient is to switch from residual fuels, such as heavy fuel oil, to distillate fuels. On average, this could reduce emission by 33%. Globally such a shift could cut black carbon emission from shipping in half. Fuel quality regulations are important for driving such a shift.10
A switch to distillate fuels have the additional benefit of making it possible to use diesel particulate ﬁlters to remove black carbon from the exhaust, cutting emissions by as much as 90%. For ships that still operate on residual fuel, scrubbers could reduce black carbon emission by 30% for a vessel. 11
Other options for reducing black carbon emissions include a switch to Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) fuels. This would almost eliminate emissions of black carbon, but LNG as fuel still contributes to carbon dioxide and methane emissions. More long-term options include a switch to methanol, biofuels, or hydrogen fuels. These are currently more expensive than traditional fuels.12 A switch to electric motors is also being considered, especially for short-haul ferries.13
Emissions from shipping are mainly regulated by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and in the Arctic under IMO’s International Code of Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code). Discussions are on-going about the role of better technologies and emission standards for other air pollutants and how they could also reduce emissions of black carbon. In 2018, IMO agreed on 41 appropriate ways to control black carbon from ships, including using cleaner burning fuels and capturing black carbon in diesel particulate ﬁlters.14 In November 2020 IMO approved a ban on the use of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic region. The decision has however been criticized because it included exceptions and waivers that would delay the effective implementation until mid-2029.15
The Arctic Council does not have any legal mandate to regulate shipping in the Arctic but is engaged in shipping issues as a knowledge provider and by presenting recommendations. Its Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane issued recommendations related to shipping in both 2017 and 2019.16 The 2019 recommendations broadened an earlier focus on accelerating black carbon work under the IMO to also include activities and measures to be considered by Arctic States and, as appropriate, include other international work on black carbon emissions. The 2019 report also lists specific actions that Arctic countries have taken in relation to reducing emissions of black carbon from shipping.17
The Arctic Council Working Group on Protection of the Arctic Marine Environment (PAME) works specifically on mitigating risks associated with the use and carriage of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) by vessels in the Arctic. It includes collecting and reporting the use of heavy fuels and exploring ‘environmental, economic, technical and practical aspects of the use by ships in the Arctic of alternative fuels.’18
Further policy action
The EUA-BCA report Enhancing the reduction of black carbon emissions to protect the Arctic: Mapping the policy landscape of national, regional and international actions highlight the following key priorities for further work:
- Develop a standardised black carbon sampling, conditioning and measurement protocol within IMO,
- Advancing international regulations to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping,
- Progressing with emission reductions through regional, national, sub-national and local actions, mainly through regulations for ports and specific shipping routes or areas and R&D support.
In addition to the international regulations by the IMO, the EUA.BCA policy mapping points to the potential role of regional and local regulations for specific sea areas or even ports, which have historically contributed to improved environmental performance of shipping, including the reduction of air pollutants. It calls for a combination of strategic planning, regulations and support for R&D activities and piloting, such as that carried out by the Arctic Council’s working groups PAME and ACAP. PAME is actively engaged in the identification of elements for the revision of the Arctic Council Arctic Marine Strategic Plan that extends until 2025 and ACAP engages in piloting of specific actions.
Details on different policy options are described in the report Elements in the landscape for action on black carbon in the Arctic: Supporting material for the EUA-BCA report Enhancing the reduction of black carbon emmission to protect the Arctic.
They can also be explored in the Digital map of elements in the policy landscape for action on black carbon in the Arctic.
1Naya Olmer et al., “Greenhouse Gas Emission from Global Shipping, 2013-2015” (Washington DC: International Council on Clean Transportation, 2017), https://theicct.org/publications/GHG-emissions-global-shipping-2013-2015.
2Bryan Comer et al., “Black Carbon Emission and Fuel Use in Global Shipping 2015” (Washington DC: International Council on Clean Transportation, 2017), https://theicct.org/publications/black-carbon-emissions-global-shipping-2015.
3Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2017” (Tromsø, Norway: Arctic Council Secretariat, 2017), http://hdl.handle.net/11374/1936.
4Bryan Comer et al., “Prevalence of Heavy Fuel Oil and Black Carbon in Arctic Shipping, 2015 to 2025” (Washington DC: International Council on Clean Transportation, 2017), https://theicct.org/publications/prevalence-heavy-fuel-oil-and-black-carbon-arctic-shipping-2015-2025.
5Comer et al.
6Comer et al., “Black Carbon Emission and Fuel Use in Global Shipping 2015.”
7Comer et al., “Prevalence of Heavy Fuel Oil and Black Carbon in Arctic Shipping, 2015 to 2025.”
8Comer et al., “Black Carbon Emission and Fuel Use in Global Shipping 2015.”
9Comer et al., “Prevalence of Heavy Fuel Oil and Black Carbon in Arctic Shipping, 2015 to 2025.”
10Comer et al., “Black Carbon Emission and Fuel Use in Global Shipping 2015.”
11Comer et al.
12Comer et al.
13Mia Bennett, “Greening the World’s Blue Highways,” The Maritime Executive (blog), May 1, 2019, https://www.maritime-executive.com/magazine/greening-the-world-s-blue-highways.
14Bryan Comer and Dan Rutherford, “Turning the Ship, Slowly: Progress at IMO on New Ship Efficiency and Black Carbon,” International Council on Clean Transportation (blog), May 21, 2019, https://theicct.org/blog/staff/mepc74.
15Bryan Comer, “The International Maritime Organization’s proposed Arctic heavy fuel oil ban: Likely implications and opportunities for improvement." White Paper. International Council on Clean Transportations 2020, https://theicct.org/publications/analysis-HFO-ban-IMO-2020; “UN approves ban on heavy ship fuel in the Arctic”. Reuters 20 November 2020. https://www.reuters.com/articl..." https://www.reuters.com/articl...;
Humbert M. “IMO and Arctic states face criticism over weak HFO ban” High North News 23 November 2020, https://www.highnorthnews.com/en/imo-and-arctic-states-face-criticism-over-weak-hfo-ban.
16Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2017”; Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019” (Tromsø, Norway: Arctic Council Secretariat, 2019), http://hdl.handle.net/11374/2411.
17Arctic Council, “Expert Group on Black Carbon and Methane. Summary of Progress and Recommendations 2019.”
18Additional information can be found on the following PAME web portal: www.arcticshippingforum.is as well as PAME’s Arctic Ship Traffic Database: www.astd.is