Environmental rules for polar shipping veering off course

GLAND, Switzerland – May 15, 2015 – New rules adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to prevent pollution from shipping in polar waters are insufficient to protect threatened polar ecosystems, says WWF.

WWF applauds efforts to develop the ‘Polar Code’, which will come into force in 2017, but the new rules agreed today fall short of what is required to reduce the impact of increasing shipping on fragile polar ecosystems which are already stressed by a warming climate.  

Rod Downie, WWF-United Kingdom’s Polar Programme Manager said:

“IMO member states should get all hands back on deck and honour the original vision of the Polar Code, which saw environmental protection as a priority.”

“That means additional measures to reduce the risk of invasive marine species, more stringent requirements for oil spill response, banning the use and restricting carriage of heavy fuel oil by ships in the Arctic, reducing air emissions and black carbon, and addressing underwater noise.”

The new rules address pollution discharges from ships such as oil, chemicals, sewage and garbage while at sea and will go some way towards strengthening existing regulations, particularly in the Arctic. They will complement additional safety measures for ships operating in polar waters which were adopted by IMO last year. 

Arctic shipping is set to expand in the next few decades, particularly along the Northern Sea Route connecting Europe with Asia and North America via Russia. 

Rod Downie said: 

“A strong, legally binding Polar Code is particularly urgent in the Arctic where rapid warming is leading to the loss of sea ice and opening up of sea routes. 

“Today’s adoption of new shipping rules is a well-intentioned first step, but Arctic states and observer states to the Arctic Council including the UK, Netherlands, Spain, China, India and Singapore now need to step up and chart a course towards stronger environmental standards”.

For more information, contact:

Rod Downie

Polar Programme Manager, WWF-UK

+44 (0) 7913 129818