In the run up to an all-important IMO meeting on curbing emissions from shipping, The Baltic Briefing examines the status quo.
With the 72nd session of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) due to take place in London from April 9 to 13, attention will be focused on the ruminations of the United Nations’ agency next week.
Pre-emptively, the International Chamber of Shipping — the world’s major trade association for merchant shipowners and operators — has called on governments to compromise at the meeting to help the IMO agree an ambitious roadmap for further reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from shipping to meet the Paris Agreement’s expectations.
“Governments on all sides of the debate are going to need to show far more willingness to compromise on their current positions or put at risk an agreement on a meaningful strategy,” International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) chairman Esben Poulsson said. “This would greatly undermine the authority of IMO and the future sustainability of the shipping industry. Agreement upon a mid-century objective for the total reduction of CO2 emissions by the sector, regardless of trade growth, will be vital to discourage unilateral action and to provide the signal needed to stimulate the development of zero-CO2 fuels. But the very high level of ambition proposed by certain EU Member States — a 70% to 100% total cut in emissions before 2050 — is unlikely to achieve consensus support.”
According to a briefing note, the ICS indicates that a major improvement in ship efficiency — “over ‘business as usual’” — would be necessary if the IMO set a preliminary goal of lowering shipping’s total CO2 emissions by half, for example, rather than 70% to 100%. This would still only be possible with the widespread use of zero-CO2 fuels, the ICS said, taking account of maritime trade’s expected growth.
Shipping could be responsible for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if left unregulated
“A mid-century objective similar to that proposed by Japan — which might also enjoy support from nations like China if EU nations were willing to compromise — would still provide a compelling signal to the industry,” Mr Poulsson explained. “This should also be sufficient to stimulate the development of zero-CO2 fuels, leading to a 100% CO2 reduction in line with the ambitious vision which IMO must agree.”
Previously, both the ICS and other industry associations have made it clear that removing all CO2 emissions from international shipping sometime between 2050 and 2100, or as soon as global availability of zero-CO2 fuels allows for this, is the ultimate aim. In advance of these types of fuels becoming widely available, shipping, the ICS claimed, has additionally proposed that the IMO should adopt the targets of maintaining world shipping’s annual total CO2 emissions below 2008 levels; decreasing CO2 emissions per tonne-km, as an average across global shipping, by at least half by 2050 compared to 2008; and reducing international shipping’s total annual CO2 emissions by an agreed percentage by 2050, compared with 2008, as a point on a continuing trajectory of CO2 emissions-lowering.
Time to get tough
Reducing CO2 emissions from the international shipping industry is an important task. The dirty, low-grade fossil fuels that are used to power ships make vessels major contributors to world air pollution, with the Third IMO GHG Study 2014 showing that maritime transport emits about 1,000m tonnes of CO2 each year. This form of carriage, according to the report, makes up around 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Looking ahead, emissions from shipping are anticipated to go up between 50% and 250% by 2050 (depending on future economic and energy developments), the European Commission claims.
Beyond the idea that the shipping industry is not doing enough to tackle the pollutants it releases, it has been argued that the sector has consciously fought against efforts to limit damage. In October 2017, non-profit organisation InfluenceMap, which looks at the degree to which corporations influence climate policy and legislation, released a report that claimed shipping had “aggressively lobbied” the IMO to obstruct climate change action for shipping, maintaining its status as the planet’s only sector not currently governed by any emissions decreasing measures. The document took aim at the ICS, claiming it had spearheaded efforts to oppose climate change action at the IMO. It said that this chamber, BIMCO and the World Shipping Council (WSC) had together lobbied to push back implementing any climate legislation until 2023 and, on top of this, only supported voluntary regulations that might not decrease shipping’s overall GHG emissions.
“Despite being responsible for close to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the shipping sector remains outside of the UN Paris Climate Agreement,” InfluenceMap said. “A 2015 European Parliament report estimated that shipping could be responsible for 17% of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 if left unregulated, potentially jeopardising global ambitions set out under the Paris Agreement.”
The organisations fought back against the allegations. The ICS said that the amount of documents submitted by industry in advance of meetings showed how seriously it took cutting shipping’s CO2 emissions, while the WSC claimed it “‘[offered] concrete [proposals] for both short- and long-term carbon-reductions’”, noting a climate action policy submission, (MEPC) 71/7/4, that it co-submitted previously in 2017. IMO’s secretary general, Kitack Lim, said that the “participation of organisations representing so many viewpoints [provided] a balance that [added] considerably to the credibility of the Organization’s overall output”. The IMO Assembly’s strategic plan for 2018 to 2023, adopted in late 2017, included the strategic direction of “developing appropriate, ambitious and realistic solutions to minimise shipping’s contribution to air pollution and its impact on climate change”.
At the 72nd MEPC session, chaired by Japan’s Hideaki Saito, it is expected that the assembly will adopt an initial strategy on lowering vessels’ GHG emissions. According to the IMO, this will be a framework for member states, anticipated to lay out the future vision for world shipping, ambition levels for decreasing GHG emissions and guiding principles. It will include further actions for the short-, mid- and long-term, along with potential timelines and their effect on states, plus barriers and supportive steps like capacity building, research and development and technical co-operation.
The Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships, which will have its third meeting in early April, is expected to finalise the draft initial strategy text and give a report to MEPC 72. Moreover, at the 72nd session, the committee is expected to create a working group for GHG reduction from ships, as well as looking at vessel energy-efficiency and the non-mandatory data collection system regarding ships’ fuel oil consumption. Wider topics to feature at the session will include marine litter, implementing the sulphur 2020 limit, implementation of the ballast water management treaty and measures to decrease the risks of using and carrying heavy fuel oil as fuel by vessels in the Arctic.
Given the clear indications that more needs to be done to cut the use of harmful fuels in shipping, it seems this session cannot come a moment too soon.