Alongside eight other countries, Iceland has recently filed a proposal to the International Maritime Organisation to ban the use of heavy fuel in the Arctic region, RÚV reports.
The decision comes after an intense battle led by various environmental organisations, including the Environment Agency of Iceland, to pressure the government to tighten laws regulating the use of heavy fuel in the oceans.
The new proposal was also signed by the United States, Germany, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Norway, and will be discussed at the next International Maritime Organisation meeting next week. It’s worth noting that the law in question would not ban the transport of oil but rather its use as fuel for ships and boats.
Fishing boats and cargo ships, for instance, can now burn heavy fuel around the shores of Iceland without a problem. The Environment Agency of Iceland, however, aims to change exactly that, in order to protect the biosphere of the Arctic. Yet the decision is expected to have little to no impact on ships sailing to Iceland at this point. According to Sigurrós Friðriksdóttir, the Agency’s team manager, the law would in fact only apply to ships sailing in the area protected by the Polar Code, which includes most of the Arctic circle and Greenland but not Iceland. “So this would affect Icelandic ships only if they were sailing through that area,” Sigurrós explains.
Even so, the Agency considers this proposal a crucial step to protect the Arctic waters. In summer 2017, the Iceland Nature Conservation Association had already warned authorities about the unusual amount of polluting particles emitted by cruise ships coming to Iceland, which were said to be 200 times more than usual. In the future, the maritime traffic in the North Atlantic is expected to increase even more.
“People know that if there is an oil spill in the area, the local biosphere will be extremely vulnerable to that,” Sigurrós says. “So it’s important that we take immediate action to protect it.”
If the proposal is accepted at the next IMO meeting, it will only go into effect in 2021, but according to Sigurrós it’s still unclear whether the bill is likely to pass. “There are countries in the Arctic that are opposing the proposal, so it might end up being quite a controversial topic,” Sigurrós adds. “We’ll find out what happens next week.”