Founder of Bellona Frédéric Hauge.
The European Union will demand a ban on the exploitation of new oil, coal and gas fields in the Arctic to protect a region severely affected by climate change, according to a proposal for the bloc’s new Arctic strategy released Wednesday in a movement that Bellona applauds wholeheartedly.
The EU, which has three member states with arctic territory, said there was a “geopolitical necessity” for it to be involved in the region, as global warming opens up competition for resources and the prospect of new sea lanes.
Bellona – who for two decades has campaigned for such a move through its offices in Brussels and Oslo – said the proposal would warn Norway, Europe’s second-largest oil exporter.
“This is an extremely important decision on the part of the EU,” said Bellona founder Frédéric Hauge. “We are already seeing how demand for Norwegian oil and gas is starting to evaporate.”
In a policy document released on Wednesday, the European Commission pledged to aim for “a multilateral legal obligation to no longer allow the development of hydrocarbon reserves in the Arctic or contiguous regions” – which would include a pact not to buy fuel fossils that are also developed in the Arctic.
The proposal could mean that the bloc will join the United States and Canada, which have both suspended their own plans for hydrocarbon development in the Arctic region, thus giving new impetus to the cause. This year, President Joe Biden suspended drilling licenses in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In 2016, Canada issued a five-year moratorium on Arctic drilling that it will likely renew.
The EU is a net importer of arctic oil and gas and estimates that it is responsible for 36% of arctic black carbon deposition, which accelerates global warming by darkening icebergs and lands that otherwise would reflect the sun’s rays.
Ringing the bell on this issue was of particular importance to Bellona. Research by Bellona’s office in St. Petersburg was instrumental in the European Parliament’s 2011 ban on the types of heavy fuel oil (HFO) responsible for blackening arctic ice. Our Brussels office even urged the EU to refuse to host HFO-powered ships – a particularly important decision given that 70 percent of ships passing through the North East Passage were fueled, at the time, with such fuels.
Bellona went on to support the European Commission’s efforts to strengthen safety in the offshore drilling industry following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. The EU Offshore Safety Directive, concluded in 2013, established the liability of oil drillers for spills and other accidents, and required operators to submit a thorough assessment of the hazards facing their facilities in order to that they be approved.
In addition to its ongoing campaign against HFOs, the Brussels office in Bellona also underlined the importance of developing an alternative proposal for maritime transport in the Arctic, by publishing in 2017 a roadmap for a magazine on the way to achieve an electric and hybrid maritime standard.
Later that year, Bellona co-founded the Clean Arctic Alliance, which brought together other NGOs with the aim of upholding the call for the EU to ban HFOs. That same year, the Norwegian Shipowners Association declared its support for the ban.
To gain support for the ban, the Alliance partnered with Hurtigruten, Norway’s largest passenger shipping company, and drafted the Arctic Commitment, a document that encourages both shippers and individuals to join the ban on HFOs in the Arctic.
The Arctic Commitment has over 100 signatories, including representatives from the shipbuilding industry, ports, politicians and businesses, such as Nike and the famous Swedish furniture company Ikea.
In the meantime, Bellona, through the coordinated efforts of its offices in Brussels, Oslo, St. Petersburg and Murmansk, continues to focus on continuing Arctic shipping and oil recovery efforts.
Hauge de Bellona said on Wednesday that the proposed EU ban can and should create uncertainty over the Norwegian government’s oil and gas plans in the Barents Sea.
“We trust the EU more than any other Norwegian government in this matter,” Hauge said. “The proposal highlights the current government’s statement, as the European Commission appears to be going much further than what the new government is prepared to do. The Arctic is one of the very first places where we have to stop looking for oil and gas.