Keeping the Amur River Wild and Free

The Amur River is the largest, still free-flowing river in Asia, and its basin the most biodiverse region in Russia. But its vast forests, wetlands, and steppes, as well as its endemic tigers, leopards, cranes, and bears are threatened by a voracious demand for energy and natural resources.

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Large-scale dam building threatens the mighty Amur River basin, the largest, still free-flowing river system in Asia.

 

Drawing on lessons learned over the past 25 years, Pacific Environment’s new report, Conservation Investment Strategy for the Russian Far East,  reflects the geographical and strategic priorities identified by some of the world’s most respected experts on the region.

In addition to Arctic ice ecosystems in Chukotka and salmon ecosystems throughout the Far East, the Amur River basin was selected as one of three high-priority regions for future conservation investments.

As the most promising strategies for success in the Amur River basin, the report’s experts recommend focusing on stopping proposed dams on the Amur River and quickly expanding the Amur’s protected areas to include its vast wetlands.

Eugene Simonov, a longtime partner of Pacific Environment, is a successful grassroots activists and one of the world’s foremost experts on the region. He is spearheading Rivers without Boundaries, a coalition of grassroots environmental groups from Russia, China, Mongolia, and the U.S. that seeks to preserve river basins in northeast Eurasia through joint advocacy and promotion of best practices in river management.

Eugene-Simonov

In the following Q&A, Eugene highlights the global importance of the Amur River basin.

Q: Why is the Amur River Basin so important for global conservation efforts?

BESIDES ITS OBVIOUS GLOBAL BIODIVERSITY VALUE and outstanding qualities of free-flowing river, the Amur is also an important example of sharp contrasts among countries—natural, cultural, economic, psychological. Russia, Mongolia, and China essentially belong to three different civilizational roots and each of the countries dominated the whole Amur Basin at one time in history. You can hardly find another river basin on Earth that is so deeply divided. You have the country with the biggest appetite for natural resources bordering countries that believe their resources are boundless. Yet they share one river ecosystem and understand they have to protect their common environment, despite the desire to extract and transport natural resources. The future of the Amur depends on where they strike the balance and whether they find adequate common language to agree on rules of cooperation. This is a unique experiment that has a lot to tell us about the solutions to global problems.

Q: The Amur Basin has a well-developed civil society and a wealth of scientists and experts working on conservation. But the region is so vast and there are so many conservation challenges, what is the ultimate priority?

FOR FRESHWATER ECOSYSTEMS, THE GREATEST PRIORITY is to agree on new ecologically sound objectives for common river basin management. Once upon a time, in 1986, Russia and China agreed to ruin this river completely by a chain of hydropower dams in the main stem. The Amur was saved partly because of mutual mistrust, and partly because of a huge educational effort undertaken by conservationists. We have yet to replace the mechanical ideal of artificial reservoirs generating energy with a more sustainable, mutually agreeable management goal.

Q: The 2013 flooding may have been good for the Amur River and its flora and fauna, but it devastated many communities, and resulted in new calls for more dams and flood control infrastructure. How can people value the natural river when it’s a threat to their livelihoods, even lives?

PEOPLE OF THEIR FREE WILL HAVE CHOSEN TO SETTLE IN FLOOD-PRONE AREAS because of their proximity to water, naturally fertilized floodplain soil, abundance of fish, and so on. They do value the natural river. Even at the height of the 2013 floods, polls showed that most people didn’t see dams as a remedy for floods. Funds that the government is now trying to earmark for building new dams could be better used for modernization and adaptation of riverine municipalities, so new settlement infrastructure and economy are better adapted to floods and droughts. Russian regions along the Amur do not lack land resources, so there are opportunities to avoid this conflict just by not building residences and production facilities in the floodplains.

Q: Even if Russian citizens and authorities were to implement the most rigorous conservation standards and practices, won’t China’s voracious appetites for raw materials still overwhelm the Russian Far East?

THE REAL QUESTION IS WHETHER RUSSIAN AND CHINESE AUTHORITIES and businesses could develop and enforce such rigorous standards and practices. The two countries share many environmental objectives (like tiger protection or river pollution prevention). Success is not granted, but quite feasible.

Posted in Biodiversity, China, Civil Society, Communities, Energy, Forests, Freshwater, Grassroots Activism, Rivers, Russia, Russia Community Partners, Russian Far East | Comments Off

Our Top 7 Wins of 2014

 

It has been a banner year for us and our local partners on the frontlines of environmental justice around the Pacific Rim.

Here are seven accomplishments I’m especially proud of; they would not have been possible without your support.


 

Bear and Kronotsky Volcano

Preserving Untouched Wilderness

The Russian Far East is a region of unparalleled wilderness, rich in biodiversity and vast intact ecosystems. But polar bears, walrus, tigers, and leopards are under threat from massive logging, mining, and oil and gas drilling projects. Over the past two years, we worked with dozens of scientists and grassroots activists to develop conservation plans that will help local people protect the region’s unique ecosystems, carbon-gulping forests, and endangered wildlife—even as the Russian government continues to increase the repression of local environmental heroes.

 


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Protecting the Arctic

We protected walrus, bowhead whales, narwhals, seals, polar bears, and other wildlife from the severe harm posed by increased ship traffic in Arctic seas. As a result of our hard-hitting advocacy at the United Nations agency responsible for writing international maritime laws, ships will not be allowed to dump garbage and oil in Arctic waters, and they will be required to avoid marine wildlife on their journey. We also won a historic commitment from the U.S. to help safeguard indigenous cultural and subsistence traditions in the Arctic.


 

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Attacking Pollution

We helped Chinese grassroots activists intensify and expand the scope of their watchdog and whistleblowing activities. Our partners are becoming ever more successful at identifying illegal industrial pollution that poisons the country’s water and air. Together with their growing networks of citizen volunteers, our partners feed pollution information to the media to pressure local governments and businesses to clean up their act. Our partners are also increasing their use of sophisticated legal tactics to seek justice for pollution victims in China’s courts.


 

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Safeguarding Endangered Whales

We halted attempts by the oil industry to weaken protections for the critically endangered Western gray whale when the industry tried to dismantle a panel of whale scientists. We frequently work with these scientists to ensure that oil drilling activities off the coast of Sakhalin Island in Russia’s sub-Arctic don’t push the remaining 150 whales to extinction.


 

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Exposing Corruption

We exposed a massive illegal coal base on the Tibetan Plateau. The story made international headlines after local government officials in China initially tried to cover it up for fear of being charged with corruption. Our exposure of the illegal coal base resulted in the closure of operations located within a natural reserve and stronger oversight of coal mining and processing activities in Western China.


 

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Challenging Shell Oil

We and our allies achieved a historic win when a federal court called into question the legality of the oil and gas leases the Bush administration sold to Shell and other oil companies in the mid-2000s. Following this win, Shell announced that it was cancelling its Arctic drilling plans for 2014. The company’s shareholders are also getting nervous—not least due to reports like Frozen Future, which we co-authored to expose the huge financial risks of offshore oil drilling in the Arctic’s treacherous waters.


 

Suren Gazaryan in Tallnin's Old Town, Estonia

Supporting Environmental Heroes

We successfully nominated our partner, Suren Gazaryan, for the 2014 Goldman Environmental Prize—the Nobel Prize for grassroots environmental activists. Suren courageously called out Vladimir Putin and prominent Russian oligarchs for illegally building summer homes in national parks along Russia’s iconic Black Sea coast. He also battled illegal logging and construction in Sochi National Park for the 2014 Olympic Games.


 

Thank you for standing in solidarity with grassroots environmental leaders around the Pacific Rim!

Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Bering Sea, Biodiversity, Capacity-Building, China, Civil Society, Climate Change, Coal, Communities, Energy, Fisheries, Forests, Freshwater, Global, Grassroots Activism, Kamchatka, Marine, Oceans, offshore drilling, Rivers, Russia, Russia Community Partners, Russian Far East, Sakhalin, Salmon, Shipping, Sustainable Development, Water | Comments Off

New Strategies for Conservation Success in Russia

 

Russia’s Far East and Arctic are regions of unparalleled wilderness, rich in biodiversity and vast intact ecosystems. The region is also home to dozens of indigenous cultures, endangered wildlife, and forests so vast they are only rivaled by the Amazon’s.

Over the past two years, Pacific Environment has worked with dozens of community leaders, conservationists, and scientists to identify the best opportunities for conservation success in Russia’s Far East and Arctic.

Drawing on lessons learned over the past 25 years, our new report, Conservation Investment Strategy for the Russian Far East, establishes a forward-thinking set of priorities to help us, our partners on the ground, foundations, and allied organizations achieve important conservation successes in the next decade–even in a changing, and often difficult, political climate.

The report reflects the geographical and strategic priorities identified by some of the world’s most respected experts on the region:

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ARCTIC ICE ECOSYSTEMS

Climate change is altering the Arctic’s ice-dependent ecology, threatening wildlife and indigenous cultures. The walrus is the cornerstone of indigenous economy and culture, since it is also the only source of food for local communities during severe Arctic winters. The report shows how indigenous communities and international conservationists can collaborate to protect walrus habitats and facilitate international policies to protect Arctic peoples and ecosystems.

 

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THE GREAT AMUR RIVER

The most biodiverse region in Russia, the Amur River’s vast forests and endemic tigers, leopards, cranes, and bears are threatened by a voracious demand for natural resources. Russian conservationists have been collaborating with Chinese counterparts to create international protected areas. The report recommends stopping proposed dams on the Amur River and quickly expanding the Amur’s protected areas to include its vast wetlands.

 

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SALMON STRATEGIES

The rivers in the Russian Far East are inhabited by more than half the world’s wild salmon. But the salmon’s survival is threatened by commercial-scale poaching and industrial pollution. In Sakhalin, a coalition of conservationists and commercial fishing companies created a park that protects the most important salmon rivers. In Kamchatka, indigenous peoples have teamed up with park rangers to arrest poachers. The report recommends quickly scaling up these initiatives to prevent the extinction of threatened salmon species.

 

In addition, the report includes a discussion of current conditions affecting conservation in the region, including systemic threats, legislation, politics, and international conservation policy and examples of recommended strategies and best practices, presented in the form of case studies of successful conservation initiatives.

 

Get your copy now!

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

FULL REPORT

 

 

Posted in Arctic, Bering Sea, Biodiversity, Capacity-Building, Civil Society, Climate Change, Communities, Fisheries, Forests, Freshwater, Grassroots Activism, Kamchatka, Marine, Oceans, Rivers, Russia, Russia Community Partners, Russian Far East, Sakhalin, Salmon, Sustainable Development, Uncategorized | Comments Off

Why Citizen Participation Should Be Encouraged in China’s 13th Five-Year Plan

 

By Alex Levinson and Kristen McDonald

First published in chinadialogue.

In the nation’s 13th Five-Year Plan, the leaders of China should, once and for all, enshrine the principle that protection of the public’s health and the nation’s water, air and other critical natural resources is of the same importance as economic prosperity. Creating a unified mandate – the explicit linking of economic growth with protection of the public health and environment – would be a powerful statement and symbol to the citizens of China.

To breathe life into the symbol will require sustained implementation and enforcement of the various, frequently strong, health and environmental laws China has adopted, including its recently revised Environment Law. There are many additional environmental measures that the 13th Five-Year Plan might include: a national coal cap, maximum daily pollution restrictions and strict limits on small particulate matter (PM 2.5) for all Chinese cities, for example. Ultimately, however, what is most needed to protect the public health and environment is a stronger mandate for citizen collaboration in solving the nation’s water and air-pollution problems.

Citizen engagement takes two forms: implementation and enforcement. To ensure implementation, the 13th Five-Year Plan should direct regional and local governments to maximise public participation – by interested individuals, non-governmental organisations, academic research institutions and others – in determining the best local anti-pollution measures to meet strict national standards. 

To ensure enforcement, the plan should require that, once local priorities are set and planning decisions made, the public is authorised to help the government identify violators in the community and help craft solutions to remedy violations. And it should introduce stronger top-down incentives to encourage local officials to better enforce environmental and public-participation standards, as well as publicly disseminated “report cards” to hold them accountable for doing so.

To facilitate meaningful, effective citizen involvement in addressing local pollution, the 13th Five-Year Plan should require that all polluting companies (not just selected key industries) install real time pollution monitoring equipment and release monitoring data in a manner that’s easily accessible to the public. It should also call for broad dissemination of pollution survey data compiled by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, since this is the kind of data that can currently be used in court by citizens as evidence of pollution violations. Correspondingly, the plan should emphasise that citizens and non-governmental organisations are authorised and encouraged to bring public interest environmental lawsuits against illegal polluters and that courts should hear such pollution cases in a timely manner.

A critical ally

To give an example of how public engagement measures can work, regional and local governments are currently working on new clean air plans called for in the 12th Five-Year Plan and the State Council Directive of September 2013. Naturally, the first iterations of these plans will fall short; they will be experimental attempts to identify how to clean up local air-pollution problems. Local communities possess a wealth of knowledge about practical solutions and the best trade-offs that must be made to maintain economic growth and improve air quality. To obtain local input, governments could host public participation events throughout their jurisdictions and invite public comments on draft local clean air plans, which would be widely circulated.

Citizen participation from the beginning would help ensure that the new plans and new policies include measures to ensure that they will actually be strongly enforced – measures such as clear pollution limits and reporting requirements for specific types of polluting factories, public access to that information and clarity about when and how individuals and civic organisations may seek court remedies if the clean air plans are not followed. With these types of measures in place, the public would be a critical ally to local government officials charged with redressing excessive pollution.

Local governments and local communities, working together, can solve China’s pressing pollution challenges. The 13th Five-Year Plan should mandate an environmental protection system that ensures that local governments collaborate fully with the public they serve.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off

It’s Time to End the Age of Coal

 

We’re excited to announce the launch today of endcoal.org, a user-friendly website that provides information and resources about the dangers of coal and the solutions to meeting global energy needs.

 

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Endcoal.org is a place where the global movement to stop coal can share its stories, resources, and news, and where people new to coal can come to learn about how to fight this dirty energy source. The site has been developed by a suite of environmental, social justice and health advocates from around the world, including Pacific Environment.

 

Endcoal.org is a hub for all matters coal-related, including resources on the nexus between coal and health, water, climate change, finance and economics, and coal mining. It features the latest news on coal, plus blogs from some of the leading international writers and activists on coal. The site also hosts a brand new interactive map and database that tracks all planned coal plants around the world since 2010.

 

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Need to know how much coal contributes to climate change? Curious about how many people die per year from coal pollution? Want to find the latest reports about coal’s impacts on water? Need quick stats on how many coal plants are planned around the world?

 

Endcoal.org answers all these questions and many more.

 

Visit it today and visit it often for updates and news!

Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Global | Comments Off

Bank of America: Bankrolling the Destruction of the Great Barrier Reef

UPDATE: Bank of America heard you and is showing some positive signs of movement. Stay tuned for more information on new developments.

The Great Barrier Reef is a global treasure and one of the Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems. It’s home to endangered dugongs and green and loggerhead sea turtles, and it’s a crucial area for humpback whales giving birth and raising their young.

But right now the coal industry is trying to move forward with a deal that would threaten Australia’s Great Barrier Reef and turbocharge climate change. And Bank of America is considering bankrolling this terrible project that would cook the climate.

A huge corporation called Adani is attempting to dredge 3 million cubic meters of seabed to expand the Abbot Point coal port, wrecking part of the biggest stretch of coral reef in the world.

The coal industry wants to build out Abbot Point so it can dig new mega-mines in a vast reserve called the Galilee Basin. That would double coal production in Australia, already the world’s second-biggest coal exporter. Unbelievably, in the midst of a climate emergency, Bank of America is considering bankrolling a carbon time-bomb on the scale of the Alberta tar sands.

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Pacific Environment has been instrumental in challenging U.S. federal funding for two massive liquefied natural gas projects threatening to destroy the Great Barrier Reef.

Now we have teamed up with Rainforest Action Network (RAN) to make sure no American bank will fund this destructive project. RAN has been working behind the scenes, asking the biggest Wall Street investment banks to commit to not finance reef and climate destruction. But to get Bank of America to commit to not financing this project, we need you to speak up and tell the bank’s CEO Brian Moynihan not to bankroll the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef.

The good news is that we have a chance to stop this from happening. Without the backing of major financial institutions, this deal cannot go ahead. In fact, three of the biggest Wall Street investment banksGoldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, and Citigroup—have said they won’t fund the deal.

Join us and the coalition of international environmental organizations now and send a message to Bank of America. Tell them to commit: Don’t fund a deal that would wreck the Great Barrier Reef and harm the climate!

 

Posted in Biodiversity, Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Finance, Global, Grassroots Activism, Marine, Oceans | Comments Off

Dirty Dollars: U.S. Tax Monies for a Coal Project Abroad Are Hurting People and the Environment

On October 21, 2014, Pacific Environment and allies Sierra Club, 350.org, Carbon Market Watch, and Friends of the Earth U.S. released the results of an  investigation that revealed shocking new details on the catastrophic human rights, labor, and environmental violations at a coal project in India financed  by U.S. tax payers via the U.S. Export-Import Bank (Ex-Im Bank).
 

 

The report includes accounts from more than 25 local residents who became victims of relocation, violence, and disappearances and have suffered negative health impacts as a result of the construction and operation of Reliance Power’s Sasan coal-fired power plant and mine in Singrauli, India.

Ex-Im Bank, the U.S. Government’s largest trade promotion agency,  has provided over $900 million in financing for the project—using American taxpayer dollars to support this dirty and dangerous coal project. What’s worse, agency representatives just completed their first trip to Sasan last week, but refused to meet with affected people in the local communities.

Indian civil society organizations and U.S.-based groups have repeatedly alerted Ex-Im to the grave human rights violations taking place at Sasan, but the Bank has continually turned a deaf ear. But despite these allegations, Ex-Im has repeatedly refused to provide monitoring documents for Sasan, disregarding its own due diligence procedures and federal legislation requiring that these documents be made available upon request.

In response, our partner in this effort, the Sierra Club, submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request today to gain access to all records pertaining to Environmental and Social Management Plans for Sasan. This includes the supplemental environmental reports—encompassing both the remediation or mitigation plans and related monitoring reports—Reliance Power is required to submit for each coal project. Ex-Im has 30 days to respond to the request. Stay tuned for updates.

Pacific Environment has been a leader in challenging Ex-Im Bank’s investments in destructive energy projects around the globe. We  have helped uncover and challenge numerous human rights and environmental abuses, including ExxonMobil’s deadly natural gas pipeline project in Papua New Guinea.

READ MORE:

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

FULL REPORT

 

Posted in Civil Society, Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Export Credit Agencies, Finance, Global, Policy, Responsible Finance, Sustainable Development | Comments Off

Walrus Haul-outs on Beaches: Some Solutions

 

In late September, about 35,000 walrus crowded together on a beach in northwest Alaska. This was not an isolated incident, but its sheer size attracted a lot of media attention. It clearly showed that climate change is severely altering walrus behavior.

Waltus Haul out

About 35,000 walrus hauled out on land near Pt. Lay, Alaska, in September due to disappearing summer sea ice.             Photo: Corey Arrardo/NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML

 

These walrus haul-outs are happening on both sides of the Bering Strait. Pacific Environment’s indigenous partners in the Russian Arctic first started noticing a change in walrus behavior in the early 2000s. Unable to swim indefinitely, walrus depend on sea ice for places to rest periodically during their annual migration across the Bering and Chuckchi seas between Alaska and Russia. But with summer sea ice disappearing, thousands of walrus have lost their resting places out at sea and are now forced to gather on coastal lands.

But there are actions we can take to help the walrus survive. In response to the huge summer haul-outs, local indigenous leaders we partner with started engaging experienced local hunters and local youth to monitor the walrus and record data on their behavior. Then they shared the information with scientists who have been incorporating it into their own studies and making recommendations on how to protect the walrus in a changing Arctic. The scientists tell us this indigenous data-gathering is critical because of the dearth of information about changing walrus behavior in the face of disappearing sea ice.

 

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Photo: S.A. Sonsthagen/USGS

 

Some scientists believe that the changes in the Arctic environment are so severe that the Pacific walrus’s very survival is at stake. Large, crowded groups of walrus are more likely to transmit diseases or trample calves. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the ocean are also depleting the walrus’s food supply. And the increase in ship traffic through newly ice-free Arctic waters puts the walrus at further risk of being killed by ship strikes or harmed by oil spills and oily discharges.

Pacific Environment is one of only a handful of environmental organizations in the world helping to write international laws for ships traveling through the Arctic—and we have been instrumental in successfully adding a rule that requires mariners to avoid marine mammal populations, like walrus, when planning their voyage through Arctic waters.

 

Pacific Walrus in Ice

Walrus are not the only animals facing depleted numbers or extinction because of climate change. Polar bears are also rapidly declining in numbers, and many other species, ranging from tiny plankton to narwhals, various whales and seals, and even land-based animals like caribou and fox, are facing declines due to disappearing sea ice and rising seas.

Pacific Environment will continue to work with indigenous partners and environmental allies to put in place new protections for Pacific walrus and other Arctic wildlife—through international laws and targeted conservation efforts.

For the walrus, and all other wildlife threatened by climate change in the Arctic.

Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Bering Sea, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Marine, Oceans, Russia, Russia Community Partners, Shipping | Comments Off

Anniversary of a Milestone Northwest Passage Voyage Highlights Call for Arctic HFO Ban

 

First published in Ship & Bunker

Forty-five years ago, just two months after Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, another historic exploration milestone took place in Alaska. The icebreaking tanker SS Manhattan arrived at Barter Island, AK, on September 18, 1969. The ship had been commissioned by Humble Oil to test the feasibility of using tankers to transport crude from the recently discovered Prudhoe Bay oil field. Having launched from Sun Shipyards in Chester, PA, the Manhattan was the largest U.S. merchant ship of its day and the first commercial vessel to transit the Northwest Passage.

 

Industry Insight: Anniversary of a Milestone Northwest Passage Voyage Highlights Call for Arctic HFO Ban

Many of the same hazards identified by the historic passage of the SS Manhattan still apply today.

Hazards

The historic journey was not without mishap. As detailed below, many of the same hazards identified by the historic passage of the SS Manhattan still apply today. Protecting the Arctic marine environment and Arctic people from these hazards is currently under consideration by the United NationsInternational Maritime Organization which is writing rules for Arctic shipping known as the Polar Code. The United States‘ delegation includes leadership from NOAA and the Coast Guard.

First, a bit more history. Not only the largest ship of its kind, the SS Manhattan was an engineering marvel. Retrofitting the tanker for ice conditions required the monumental feat of cutting the ship into four pieces which were then sent to ship yards in four states and then later reassembled. As the voyage transited Canadian waters, it also jump-started international attention to sovereignty and control of arctic waters. Canada required that the ship be escorted by a Canadian icebreaker and also moved to pass the Arctic Waters Pollution Prevention Act, a first attempt at exerting protections and control in international arctic waters.

The ship was greeted In Alaska by the icebreaking U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Northwind  under the command of Captain Donald J. McCann. The Northwind achieved a significant historic first during its mission to accompany the SS Manhattan by becoming was the first ship in history to complete the Northwest Passage in both directions in a single season.

The Northwind‘s voyage was beset by a damaged crankshaft and became stuck in the ice, requiring help from the Canadian icebreaker John A. MacDonald.  The MacDonald also suffered ice damage to its propeller during the voyage.

Many of the same hazards identified by the historic passage of the SS Manhattan still apply today:  lack of infrastructure, lack of emergency response, poor communications, inadequate charts, and the inability to respond to Arctic oil spills.

Icebreaking Tankers

Of course, icebreaking tankers are not yet in use to transport Prudhoe crude, but Arctic shipping is quickly accelerating. U.S. waters are affected by international shipping along our Arctic coastline and by shipping through the Bering Strait which connects Asia to the Russian Arctic and northern Europe.

There are concerns that the most pressing issue, a spill of Heavy Fuel Oil,  is not being addressed in the Polar Code. The Arctic Council, which the U.S. will chair next year, identified the release of oil as the “most significant threat” to the Arctic marine environment in their 2009 assessment of Arctic shipping.

We recommend that Heavy Fuel Oil be banned in Arctic waters and that lighter, distillate fuels be required. In the event of a spill, lighter fuels would dissipate more quickly and cause less harm to the environment and the people who depend on marine resources for food. There is precedent for banning Heavy Fuel Oil in sensitive waters, including the waters of the Antarctic. The next IMO Polar Code meeting is in London on October 13.

One more item while we’re thinking about the history and hazards of Arctic shipping. President Obama‘s Oval Office desk is known as the Resolute Desk. The desk was a gift from Queen Victoria and is made from the wood of the Resolute, a British ship that got stuck in the Arctic ice and had to be rescued by an American crew.

Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Shipping, Sustainable Development | Comments Off

Polar Code: U.S. Should Lead HFO Ban

 

Op-Ed first published in The Maritime Executive

 

Former U.S. Coast Guard commandant Admiral Robert Papp is visiting Alaska for the first time in his new capacity as the U.S. special representative for the Arctic. Admiral Papp was appointed last month by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

This is a proposal requesting Admiral Robert J. Papp to take action on including a ban on heavy fuel oil use in the Arctic as part of the Polar Code.

New ice-free waters in the Arctic are setting the stage for an industrial and shipping boom on an international scale. According to the U.S. Coast Guard, Russia estimates that last year three billion tons of cargo moved from Europe through the Bering Strait. By 2017, estimates are that 25 billion tons will move through the Northeast Passage and by 2020, 50 billion tons. This is a significant increase in Arctic shipping and the implications are enormous for both indigenous peoples as well as our Arctic environment.

 

Under international law, the IMO is responsible for developing rules to improve shipping safety and environmental protection. Currently, the IMO is working on developing a Polar Code to achieve that for both Arctic and Antarctic shipping.

 

The Polar Code comes to a crescendo this October and November as the IMO will finalize the draft language for the Code, with final adoption in spring 2015. Our primary goals at Pacific Environment are to seek U.S. support to: 1) defend positive provisions in the draft code; and, 2) secure commitments from IMO to deal with those issues not now adequately addressed in the next phase of the Polar Code.

 

So far, the Polar Code’s strongest provisions are:
1) a complete ban on the discharge of oil and oily mixtures;
2) good, but not perfect, provisions on the discharge of chemicals, sewage and garbage; and, 3) mandatory voyage planning requirements to avoid marine mammals.

 

Some of the glaring omissions or problems within the current Code include:
1) a failure to adequately deal with the biggest potential hazard to the Arctic, a heavy fuel oil (HFO) spill;
2) no mention of black carbon;
3) a glaring loophole in the draft code that allows certain non-ice class ships (so called “Category C” ships) to operate in supposedly low-ice conditions (the problem being, that sometimes these ships may plan on low-ice conditions, but conditions change rapidly causing problems);
4) another potential loophole that applies the code only to SOLAS vessels on international voyages and not domestic traffic (the problem here is that much of the Arctic vessel traffic is domestic but covers vast distances with the same threats as purely international journeys.

 

The Biggest Issue

 

The Arctic Council should adopt a resolution urging the IMO to prohibit the use of heavy fuel oil by shipping in the Arctic and near Arctic waters. This will produce a number of significant environmental benefits, including, among other things, the reduction of black carbon emissions and risk of spills that could severely impact the Arctic climate and the health of indigenous and other peoples living there.

 

Although many smaller vessels in the Arctic operate on distillate marine fuel, a substantial portion of traffic by large vessels in the Arctic continues to use heavy fuel oil which is harmful to the climate, the environment and human health, particularly in polar regions. In fact, the use and carriage of HFO has been banned in Antarctic waters by the IMO.

 

Magnitude of Expected Impact

 

Black carbon is produced by ships through the incomplete combustion of diesel fuel. Black carbon is a potent climate-forcer. Recent analysis estimates that it is the second most important climate-forcing agent, exceeded only by carbon dioxide. International shipping is a significant emitter of black carbon, with estimated emissions of between 71,000 and 160,000 metric tons annually. Requiring ships sailing in Arctic and near-Arctic waters to use distillate fuel rather than HFO would result in significant reductions in black carbon emissions.

 

There are other compelling reasons to prevent the use of HFO in Arctic waters. First, spills of HFO in marine environments are generally far more detrimental than spills of distillate fuels. When spilled, lighter, more refined marine fuels naturally disperse and evaporate much more quickly than HFO. Moreover, HFO is nearly impossible to effectively clean up in icy Arctic waters.

 

The Arctic Council’s Arctic Marine Shipping Assessment stated that: “The most significant threat from ships to the Arctic marine environment is the release of oil through accidental or illegal discharge.” Large ocean-going vessels operating in the Arctic not only burn HFO as fuel, but they also can hold significant quantities of this fuel and presumably would be traveling with full bunker tanks, as fueling options in the region are limited.

 

Second, banning the use of HFO would also obviate the need to dispose of its considerable waste sludge. This sludge generally constitutes about one to five percent of HFO consumed, and it must be discharged onshore, incinerated, or burned as fuel after further processing.

 

We at Pacific Environment request leadership from the Office of the Special Representative for the Arctic to support a commitment in the Polar Code to include a ban on the use of HFO for shipping in Arctic waters.

 

Posted in Alaska, Arctic, Bering Sea, Climate Change, Oceans, Policy, Shipping, Uncategorized | Comments Off