Call for CO2 Penalties Made at Arctic Congress

UArctic Congress participants

By The Maritime Executive 2016-09-20 19:00:48

Last week, St Petersburg University hosted the first-ever University of the Arctic (UArctic) Congress with a specific focus on current issues such as how to reduce emissions and why extracting oil, rather than natural gas, poses a greater threat to the Arctic. UArctic is a co-operative network of more than 170 universities, colleges and research institutes in and around the northern Arctic region.

The disruption of ecological balance in the Arctic can have a big global effect, said the Director of the Economic Performance and Environment laboratory at St Petersburg University, Frederick van der Ploeg. The acceleration of sea level rise, permafrost melting and consequently burps of methane release, which are far beyond the norm, and “tidal waves” of migrating animals and people – are issues affecting both the Arctic and the Earth.

“We need to strike a balance between a continuously increasing production level and global energy consumption growth. It should be of great concern to both scientists and politicians. Although the governments allocate vast sums of money to avert the global catastrophe, none of them nevertheless have introduced a fine for carbon dioxide emissions so far. Today, it high time, to my mind, that we imposed a fee, even a relatively modest fee, for emissions into the Earth’s atmosphere,” said van der Ploeg.

“Careful management of available resources, rather than rampant consumerism, can stave off the apocalypse.”

Another aspect of the global catastrophe was explored by Andrey Alimov, Associate Professor at St Petersburg University, who also took part in the expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic in 1966-67 and in 1968-74. He told how it is possible to avoid destruction of unique ecosystems in the Arctic when extracting fossil fuels.

Extracting oil, rather than natural gas, to his mind, can pose a bigger threat to the Arctic. In the Arctic, oil spills, due to accidental discharges, are more difficult to clean up, which has a major effect on albedo (a non-dimensional, unitless quantity that indicates how well a surface reflects solar energy). 

“In the Arctic, even a relatively slight decrease in how well the snow reflect the solar energy can cause an increase in absorption of the solar radiation, which consequently can have a major effect on snow-melt rate,” said the scientist. Traces and trails of the off-road vehicles, which, due to the Arctic climate, have a tendency to remain on the surface for a great while, he added, also have a potential to decrease albedo.

Another threat, not less serious, is bilge water, that is seawater discharged from the engine room into the sea as a product of shipboard operations. These discharges of waste water, a mixture of fresh water, sea water, oil, sludge, chemicals and various other fluids, must comply with the international requirements, still not all abide by them at times. 

Invasive species can also threaten nature. “Globally, to save the fragile nature of the Arctic it is of vital importance to effectively ensure ground, air and satellite monitoring and to create hydro-meteorological and biological banks,” says Alimov. Primarily, the pursuit of sustainability and focus on climate change measures are key to success in implementing Arctic projects, he says.

The next UArctic meetings will take place in August 2017 with the Council meeting at the University of Greenland in Nuuk, and the Rectors Forum at the University of Aberdeen, in Scotland. The next UArctic Congress is planned to take place in Finland during its period as chair of the Arctic Council. Finland takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2017.