The last few months have seen our global teams adapt and innovate to deal with the impact that COVID-19 has had on our clients’ supply chains. But even during this time, we’ve kept our focus on the longer-term issues affecting the logistics industry, particularly around minimising our environmental impact. Climate change will still be a threat when the global pandemic eases and issues facing the Arctic region still represent a global environmental catastrophe. In June 2020, temperatures reached 38oC in Siberia, and there have been forest fires inside and outside the arctic circle. To address this as a company, we have recently signed a pledge to avoid Arctic shipping as part of our Environmental, Social and Governance strategy, ‘Doing well by doing good’, which focuses on air, sea and community. In this article we explain why.
A spectacular disaster
The Arctic is one of the most spectacular, pristine places in the world and one of the most isolated. Study after study has revealed the accelerating impact of climate change on the Arctic’s delicate ecosystems. An annual cycle of melting and freezing is natural, but climate change has produced a downward trend in the amount of sea ice. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. In September 2019, Arctic sea ice declined to its second-lowest minimum on record, covering just 4.15 million square kilometres. The indigenous communities of northern Alaska are also at risk as warming and declining sea ice means diminished supplies of the animals they rely on for nourishment.
At the end of 2019, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s annual Arctic Report Card made for concerning reading. The report, released by the Arctic Program, tracks recent environmental changes relative to historical records. It stressed the fact that the remaining sea ice is, on average, less than half the thickness of sea ice forty years ago, making it even more susceptible to melting in the future. With warming and ice loss in Arctic likely to continue, there are far-reaching global implications. Greenland’s Ice Sheet is losing nearly 267 billion metric tons of ice per year and as the ice, snow and permafrost melt it causes tundra greening and accelerates carbon production.
The Bering Strait is the only marine gateway between the Arctic and Pacific oceans and where one of the greatest marine migrations on the planet takes place. It has been almost ice-free for two winters in a row; 70-80% below normal. Warmer water causes marine species to move, which impacts the marine food chain and commercial fisheries. Seabirds are dying and there are huge challenges for the polar bears, walruses and beluga whales that rely on the sea ice to live and hunt.
Shipping in the Arctic
The same decline in sea ice has made the polar routes more appealing to shipping companies, which were previously incapable of navigating the waters. Routes along the Russian and Canadian Arctic coasts shorten the times between major commercial markets. Through ice-free Arctic waters, ships can trim 10 to 15 days off the current 48-day Europe to East Asia journey. Some companies are even investing in ice-breaker shipping vessels and continue to pursue Arctic shipping, while holiday companies have increased tourist cruises, despite environmental concerns.
Increasing vessel traffic in these areas is risky; with increased possibility of accidents, oil or fuel spills and exposing vulnerable wildlife and communities to new risks. Additionally, some offshore oil drilling companies still hold leases off the coast of northern Alaska. A spill would do permanent harm and be truly devastating given there are no proven methods to effectively clean up oil in icy waters. Tanker lightering – transferring fuel from large tankers to smaller vessels – in Arctic Alaska could also be hazardous if oil leaks contaminate the water.
Ultimately, the best way to protect the Arctic will be to tackle climate change. On its own, shipping accounts for 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, the European Commission says measures such as reducing cargo ship speed, weather routing to avoid strong winds or currents, contra-rotating propellers and propulsion efficiency devices, can and is delivering fuel savings. Controlling the sector’s carbon footprint is essential and the International Maritime Organisation has responded to pressure, committing to a target of reducing greenhouse gases by 50-100% by 2050.
The EV Cargo pledge
The Arctic Shipping Corporate Pledge is a voluntary pledge that invites companies to avoid intentionally routing ships or sending goods through the region as part of a potential new global trans-shipment route. I’m proud to sign the pledge on behalf of EV Cargo, alongside other leading global companies such as Nike, which co-founded the pledge with Ocean Conservancy in 2019.
Retailers like H&M Group, GAP, Ralph Lauren, asos and Puma have promised their support. Global ocean shipping companies like CMA CGM, Kuehne + Nagel, Evergreen, Hapag-Lloyd, Hudson Shipping Lines and Mediterranean Shipping Company have also signed-up. This signifies a positive step and serious intention by both consumer and logistics industries alike.
Although the pledge concedes that local and regional shipping is vital to northern communities and indigenous communities, it also recognises that precautionary policies are essential. Ocean Conservancy is focused on working towards other rules and practices for the Arctic, including banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil and addressing impacts like underwater noise, grey water pollution and reducing shipping speeds.
Just like COVID-19, climate change is a reality we must accept. Although CO2 emissions have fallen during the pandemic, it’s just a tiny dip when viewed on a global, long-term scale. As part of the pledge, we will also continue to explore ways to reduce emissions created by global shipping through ‘end to end’ supply chain optimisation and packing efficiency through our packaging optimisation programmes.