The jury’s out on whether shipping’s deliberate omission from the final climate change agreement reached in Paris is a blessing or a curse
Shipping has managed to avoid the steely gaze of the gathered politicians attending the annual United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Paris this month. When the conference came to a close on December 11 an agreement was reached to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible and achieve a balance between sources and sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century; to keep global temperature increase “well below” 2C (3.6F) and to pursue efforts to limit it to 1.5C; and to review progress every five years.
But there was no explicit reference to international shipping, which leaves the IMO to regulate the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions.
While some might describe this as a lucky escape – bureaucrats interfering with technical subjects is generally unwelcome – others feel that shipping needed to be included in the discussions.
Non-governmental organisations have been vocal in their dismay. Green NGOs Seas At Risk, Carbon Market Watch and Transport & Environment have said that without a curb on shipping emissions the agreed target of 1.5°C cannot be achieved.
“The Agreement now leaves it unclear which actors have responsibility to reduce emissions from these sectors”
Silence on what the UN maritime agency should do leaves the question of responsibility in limbo, explained Transport & Environment: “The Agreement now leaves it unclear which actors have responsibility to reduce emissions from these sectors. If … IMO wish to retain a role, they must urgently scale up their ambition. Otherwise states and regional actors will have a right to adopt measures to ensure these sectors contribute to the 1.5°C target,” Andrew Murphy, aviation and shipping officer at Transport & Environment, said.
“While these sectors have received an opt-out from the text of the Agreement, they must not receive an opt-out from its long-term ambition,” added John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk.
The Carbon War Room was just as scathing. Senior associate Victoria Stulgis said: “Despite calls to regulate shipping from the European Parliament, Denmark and the Marshall Islands, as well as multiple industry leaders including Maersk, it is disappointing to learn that shipping has not been included in COP21’s global climate change agreement.”
The Carbon War Room stated that shipping contributes approximately the same amount of CO2 as Germany in terms of global emissions, but while Germany is targeting an 80% emissions reduction by 2050, shipping’s emission reduction targets are far less robust.
“Despite the outcome at COP, it is vital that the shipping industry recognises the importance and urgency of addressing greenhouse gas emissions, to effectively contribute to the global benchmark of well below 2 degrees,” said Ms Stulgis.
But it’s not for want of trying: shipowners and shipping organisations had called on the talks to include shipping in its text. More socially responsible ship owners have an incentive for global shipping-related legislation to curb emissions as it creates a level-playing field.
The Danish Shipowners’ Association had also called for the industry to set its own targets, else risk them being set by someone else. It is concerned that the European Union will now unilaterally enforce regional legislation which will be a blow for the international industry. Regional regulation creates uncertainty over the consequences for contravening ships from other global regions operating in European waters.
The International Chamber of Shipping, when the ball on shipping was being dropped, came out urging support of CO2 reduction measures at the IMO regardless of the final COP21 text.
It conceded that it would have been “helpful” if the new agreement had recognised the role of the IMO in the development of further measures to reduce shipping’s CO2 emissions, as that would have allowed the UN agency to build on the global regulations that it had already successfully adopted. “However, the absence of text is unlikely to inhibit the aspirations of governments – which are shared by the industry – for IMO to take further action,” said the ICS.
For its part, IMO will continue its work in 2016 to finalise the adoption of a global CO2 reporting system for ships as the first step in a process that is expected to lead to additional actions that could include a ‘Market Based Measure’.
In addition, IMO has already agreed to have a discussion about CO2 targets for international shipping, as requested by the Marshall Islands and supported by the European Union.
“The message from Paris is clear,” said ICS secretary general Peter Hinchliffe. “Governments and society expect international shipping to play a full part in the reduction of CO2, and we accept our responsibility to do this. We already have ambitious CO2 reduction goals consistent with what is currently possible. As soon as our member national shipowners’ associations have digested the full implications of the final UNFCCC agreement, ICS will be proactive with ideas for debate at IMO next year.”
The Carbon War Room’s Ms Stulgis pointed out that the shipping industry is actually missing a trick by not capitalising on emission reduction schemes which could create new business opportunities across the industry.
“Despite the lack of a clear target setting from Paris, we have seen that businesses and entrepreneurs have developed the solutions and are ready to scale their implementation. We’ve already seen financing agreements between leading investors and shipowners, charterers making decisions based on efficiency, and vessels being retrofitted at drydock with efficiency technology solutions. But the rest of the industry has been slow to follow – and regulation and standardisation can accelerate this process.”