It’s 2017, and a suite of new standards and practices are now in place for vessels operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. The new set of rules—called the Polar Code—is designed to increase ship safety and environmental protection in high-latitude waters. Adopted by a specialized agency of the United Nations called the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Polar Code sets standards for ship safety and for prevention of pollution from international shipping. The Polar Code took effect on January 1 of this year (with a one-year phase in period).
The Polar Code is so important because as sea ice continues to decline, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to vessel traffic. But as more ships operate in those remote and challenging waters, there are substantial safety and environmental risks—including possible impacts to food security of Arctic indigenous peoples.
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Credit: Jupiter Unlimited
Greetings from London! Just hours ago, I was lucky enough to witness the International Maritime Organization (IMO) make a pivotal decision that will drastically decrease harmful sulphur oxide (SOx) emissions from global shipping.
The Marine Environmental Protection committee of the IMO just decided that a 0.5 global sulphur cap on fuels used by the shipping industry will enter into effect in 2020. By decreasing SOx emissions from the shipping industry by 85 percent, more than 200,000 premature deaths from diseases like lung cancer and heart disease will be prevented. The sulphur cap will also significantly decrease the shipping industries’ share of world air pollution.
We will now turn our attention to ensuring implementation and enforcement of these regulations. Tonight, however, we will celebrate this pivotal decision and toast the hundreds of thousands of lives saved by this measure.
With 90 percent of the world’s trade being transported across our ocean, it was only a matter of time before the receding sea ice in the Arctic Ocean captured the interest of the shipping industry. Shipping goods through the Northern Sea Route across the Russian Arctic coast, along the fabled Northwest Passage of the Canadian and U.S. Arctic coasts, or straight across the North Pole could save time and money. But at what cost? The Arctic Ocean is far from a safe place for vessels, and the inevitable accidents in this remote and rapidly changing region could devastate the fragile ecosystem. Fortunately, the International Maritime Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations that regulates global shipping, is developing a mandatory ‘Polar Code’ designed to minimize impacts of the anticipated Arctic shipping boom.
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