As new shipping lanes emerge in the Arctic, the potential harms attributable to black carbon emissions — which coats the surrounding ice surface black and accordingly increases the rate of heat absorption over ice — increases. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has stated that half the present rise in Arctic temperature could be due to black carbon emissions. There exists, however, a stark gap in international law addressing this pollutant.
The jurisdictional framework under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) delineates State maritime authorities, including the rules regarding Port State jurisdiction, which address a Port State’s ability to condition entry to its ports. This model law relies on Port State jurisdiction to impose emissions rules on ships that dock in the United States.
The model law’s prohibition of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) as fuel in the Arctic (for ships that depart or call at U.S. ports) will lead to an immediate decrease in black carbon emissions from those ships. The lifecycle climate impact will also be reduced, both by the reduction in black carbon and in the use of distillate fuels rather than HFO. In addition, an HFO ban on ships calling at or departing from U.S. ports will lessen the risk of an HFO spill in the Arctic, as an HFO spill there would have devastating consequences. Notably the model law goes farther and faster than a similar HFO ban currently under consideration at the IMO.
Additionally, for ships utilizing distillate fuel, the model law requires the addition of a diesel particulate filter, which will drastically reduce black carbon emission levels. The model law phases in the filter requirement, after the required switch to distillate fuel. The expectation is that compliance will be shown through a survey of the ship and an authorized certificate issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as ship certification.