The E.U. should speak with one voice and push to keep the Arctic an area of cooperation not militarization, says a resolution adopted by the Foreign Affairs and Environment committees on Tuesday.
MEPs also want the European Commission and member states to work towards banning the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in maritime transport, through the MARPOL convention. In case this does not prove feasible, the E.U. should take measures to prohibit the use and carriage of HFO for vessels calling at E.U. ports, MEPs ask.
The resolution stresses the growing geopolitical importance of the Arctic region, as climate change brings new navigation and fishing routes as well as a better access to its natural resources. MEPs point out the increased “Russian military forces in the region, the building and reopening of bases and creation of an Arctic military district of Russia.”
Foreign Affairs Committee rapporteur Urmas Paet said: “The Arctic has long been an area of constructive international cooperation and it has remained a low-tension cooperative regional order in the world. We want to keep it that way. There is a need to avoid the militarization of the Arctic. Also, the respect for international law in the Arctic is essential.”
In the resolution, MEPs stress that the Arctic sea ice has diminished significantly since 1981, threatening to release huge amounts of carbon dioxide and methane into the atmosphere, while melting glaciers contribute to globally rising sea levels. The volume of sea ice present during the summer has fallen by more than 40 percent in 35 years, which is also causing unknown and unpredicted changes to the world ecosystem, they say.
As some four million people live in the region, MEPs ask for more stringent safeguards in order to respect and protect the fundamental rights of indigenous peoples, and guarantee their right to participate in decision-making on natural resources’ extraction.
The resolution will be put to a vote by the full House on March 2.
Dr Sian Prior, lead advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, said: “The Clean Arctic Alliance welcomes the clear position by the European Parliament’s environment committee, in particular its call for an HFO free Arctic. Banning HFO use by ships operating in the Arctic would reduce both the impact of oil spills and the levels of pollutants which drive the melting of snow and ice in the Arctic. This Resolution is a clear message to the International Maritime Organization that European citizens want a ban on the use of HFO in the Arctic adopted by 2020.”
Faig Abbasov, shipping policy officer at Transport & Environment, said: “We welcome MEPs taking the bold initiative to call for a ban on the use of the world’s dirtiest fuel in the Arctic. It’s unfortunate that the issue is not even on the IMO’s agenda as yet. E.U. member states should follow the political resolve shown by Europeans’ representatives and champion the protection of one of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world at the IMO.”
In December 2016, Canada and the U.S. announced a joint “phase down” of HFO from their respective Arctic regions. In September 2016, both countries had formally notified the IMO that a “heavy fuel oil spill in the Arctic could cause long-term damage to the environment.”
During the IMO’s MEPC 70 meeting in October 2016, three papers addressing the HFO problem were presented, along with one on Arctic food security. In response, several Arctic countries, and in an unusual move, the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, stated that they shared the concerns summarized by the papers and on the need for further consideration of the risks of HFO.
On January 25 this year, expedition cruise ship operator Hurtigruten and the Clean Arctic Alliance signed the Arctic Commitment, which challenges businesses and organizations to step forward and call on the IMO to implement a phase-out of polluting HFO from Arctic shipping by 2020. A number of other organizations, including Finnish icebreaker company Arctia and the Association of Arctic Expedition Cruise Operators, have also now signed the Arctic Commitment.
The full text of the Arctic Commitment and the list of signatories can be found here.