Ocean Rebellion is an international art collective who tackle Ocean degradation and biodiversity loss by conceiving playful, emotive and spectacular art interventions.
The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is a UN body, with headquarters on the Albert Embankment in central London. Early on the freezing cold morning of 12th Dec. 2022, delegates to their first physical conference since Covid were greeted by a set of carefully crafted symbolic components forming a startling piece of allegorical theatre.
A black carbon fog of Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO)
Most ships burn highly polluting HFO, a fuel also known as bunker oil and illegal to burn on land. Burnt HFO produces ‘black carbon’ which falls as soot, and is especially dangerous when emitted by ships in the Arctic. Darkened ice caps absorb more heat and melt more quickly, accelerating a feedback loop of the planetary heating that threatens all our lives.
An oil slick with three Oil Heads vomiting oily gunge
These Oil Heads represent the IMO’s refusal to take simple actions like ‘slow steaming’ (applying speed limits to shipping), replacing HFO with cleaner distillates, and ruling against unnecessary shipping. Instead they listen to fossil fuel lobbyists who always advocate ‘business as usual’.
Two dying suited figures crawling through the oil
Two figures, ‘dying’ in front of delegates attending the conference, illustrate how the IMO’s refusal to tackle shipping pollution before 2030 is failing to protect the oceans. As a UN body they are party to the Paris Climate Agreement but are failing to act accordingly, damaging any remaining chances of staying beneath the proposed temperature rise ‘ceiling’ of 1.5°C.
These figures carry briefcases; one bears the words ‘ON A HIGHWAY TO HELL’ and the other ‘OUR FOOT ON THE GAS’. They paraphrase recent words of Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General: ‘We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.’
‘No Liquid Natural Gas’ banner
Natural gas is methane, a fossil fuel. If and when it escapes into the atmosphere, ‘fugitive methane’ is a greenhouse gas that traps 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide. Yet it is being extracted, liquified and transported around the world as ‘LNG’ – and increasingly fuels its own transportation, as well as shipping in general.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified rapid methane emission cuts as a top priority, and explicitly ruled out LNG as a solution to shipping’s carbon emissions.
Contradicting these scientific findings, shipping and port companies have been investing heavily in fossil LNG. Methane emissions from ships already rose by 150% between 2012 and 2018, according to the IMO’s own figures; there are currently over 785 new cargo ships on order globally, with over 400 being built to run on fossil LNG.
In due course the ‘dirty scrubbers’ arrived to ‘greenwash’ the Oil Heads’ mess. By doing this, they reveal how the IMO is allowing bunker oil to continue to be burned at sea.
‘Scrubbers’ installed on some ships stop the worst HFO emissions from entering the atmosphere. In theory that’s a good thing, but in practice scrubbing devices convert these into an acidic solution that is then pumped directly into the ocean. The ‘greenwashing’ is not only hiding existing damage, but creating further harm.
‘Arson of our only home‘
Ocean Rebellion use fire to echo the words of Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations. He accuses the world’s biggest polluters of committing ‘arson on our only home’.
Ocean Rebellion work closely with professional designers and makers – and submit Risk Assessments. Their work is thought-through practically as well as aesthetically, driven by an overwhelming concern for the future of life on Earth. It’s hard to imagine a more creative use of climate anguish – yet the imagery is under-used. I’m grateful to be on their radar.
To learn more about the climate impact of Heavy Fuel Oil and the other issues depicted here go to: https://oceanrebellion.earth/imo-omg-act-now/https://oceanrebellion.earth/imo-omg-act-now/