Macron Calls on Shipping Lines to Shun Arctic Route

arctic sea ice
By Armin Rose / Shutterstock

By James Regan and Irina Reznik (Bloomberg) — French President Emmanuel Macron is calling on container lines to avoid using a new Arctic shipping route to protect the environment.

Speaking at the start of the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz in southwest France on Saturday, Macron said France’s biggest shipping line, CMA CGM, has committed not to use the so-called Northern Sea Route being promoted by Russia as a faster way to ship cargo between Asia and Europe.

“Many people today are explaining to us: global warming, tremendous news, the ice will melt in the north, we’ll open a much quicker route, it’s great,” Macron said. “This route will kill us in the end, because this route may well be quicker, but it is the consequence of our past irresponsibility.”

The French president is pushing for tougher action on climate change, and environmental issues have taken center stage in the run-up to the gathering of major economies, with the president slamming Brazilian leader Jair Bolsonaro over fires in the Amazon rain forest.

Russia is betting on growth in cargo shipments along its northern coast and is aiming to free up the passage all-year round using a new fleet of nuclear icebreakers. While the route is currently closed for about half the year due to thick ice, A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the world’s largest container line, completed a test run last September.

Alternative Route

As global warming reduces Arctic ice, the shipping industry is considering whether the passage might become a viable alternative to the longer Asia-Europe trip through the Suez Canal. Maersk has said the northern route isn’t currently commercially viable.

CMA CGM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Rodolphe Saade said on Friday that none of his company’s vessels would use the route, despite the “major competitive advantage” it offers to shipping lines.

“The use of the Northern Sea Route will represent a significant danger to the unique natural ecosystems of this part of the world, mainly due to the numerous threats posed by accidents, oil pollution or collisions with marine wildlife,” CMA CGM said in a statement.

Representatives of Russian state shipper Sovcomflot and Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Macron cited shipping alongside textiles as major areas for reducing the impact on the environment. Fashion giants including Nike, H&M, Armani and Chanel have signed a pact intended to curb the apparel industry’s environmental impact.

–With assistance from Helene Fouquet.

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.