The federal government is expected to support international measures that would reduce the environmental impact of Arctic shipping but would cost northern families hundreds of dollars a year.
On Monday, the International Maritime Organization is to begin considering how to eliminate the use of heavy fuel oil in ships sailing Arctic waters.
Arctic countries have already agreed to the move in principle, but the meeting is to set terms for the fuel’s phaseout. Heavy fuel oil, or HFO, is considered a major spill risk and a source of black carbon, which hastens the melting of sea ice.
“HFO constitutes the bottom of the barrel when it comes to shipping fuel,” said Dan Hubbell of the Ocean Conservancy. “It’s cheap, it’s dirty and it’s very persistent.”
Hubbell said a moderate spill in Russia in 2003 had big impacts still visible more than a decade later on marine mammals. The fuel is already banned in the Antarctic.
But replacement fuels are more expensive. Transport Canada has analyzed what higher costs would mean for Arctic communities, which depend on supplies ranging from dry goods to construction materials that arrive by sea.
It concluded the average Nunavut household would see an increase of up to $649 a year. Sealifts used by families to bring in bulk supplies of non-perishable commodities from the south would cost an extra $1,000 for a six-metre shipping container.
More than half of Eastern Arctic households are already considered severely food insecure, meaning they can’t always count on having enough food for their next meal.
Transport Canada says higher fuel prices will also affect mining companies and governments.
“A ban on HFO in the Arctic resulting in higher shipping costs passed on to the consumer would have a significant impact on households and communities,” the report says. “This could include direct and indirect effects on the health and quality of life of Indigenous and Inuit peoples living in the Arctic.”
Six out of eight Arctic countries currently support the ban. Russia is opposed and Canada has said it won’t announce its position until the meeting begins.
But in a telephone call with stakeholders last week, officials said Canada will side with the majority.