IMO’s MEPC 72 committed to halving total annual GHG emissions by 2050 — leaving shipowners facing a stiff challenge.
Critics of the shipping industry’s work to mitigate the pressing issues of climate change and its effects could find themselves being left with egg on their faces thanks to the outcomes of the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) latest session of its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), held at the IMO’s headquarters in London from April 9 to 13. Attended by over 100 IMO Member States, the 72nd session of the committee’s (MEPC 72) main takeaway was the adoption of an initial strategy that aims to lower vessels’ greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by at least 50% by 2050, in comparison with 2008.
The roadmap’s goal, according to the IMO, is to phase out GHG emissions from world shipping “as soon as possible” in the 2000s. The strategy’s 2050 objective stands alongside an aim to pursue efforts towards entirely phasing out these sorts of emissions. The plan also contains a specific reference to “a pathway of carbon dioxide emissions-reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals”.
However, the strategy wasn’t the only result of MEPC 72. The committee’s other work included adopting International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) amendments concerning Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) requirements for both ro-ro cargo and passenger vessels, and approving draft MARPOL Annex VI amendments banning carriage of non-compliant fuel oil for combustion for propulsion/operation on board ships. MEPC 72 also approved guidance regarding best practice, for fuel oil purchasers/users, for assuring the quality of fuel oil used on vessels; adopted amendments for the implementation of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments (Ballast Water Management, or BWM, Convention) as well as amendments to the BWM Convention itself; approved the data-gathering and analysis plan for the experience-building stage associated with the BWM Convention; approved BWM-related circulars; considered the development of measures to decrease risks of using and carrying heavy fuel oil, as fuel, by vessels in the Arctic; agreed to include a new agenda output to tackle marine plastic litter from shipping; and agreed to include a new output on review of resolution MEPC.207(62) (the 2011 Biofouling Guidelines) on the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response’s (PPR Sub Committee) post-biennial agenda.
Slow movement criticised
INTERCARGO welcomed the committee’s “landmark” strategy for lowering vessels’ GHG emissions, but said that although the IMO was first to tackle these emissions by adopting technical and operational ship requirements, with worldwide application — as early as 2011 — the “regional and insufficient thinking outside the IMO framework” that had occurred since then was “disappointing”. It also noted that the process of agreeing a GHG-decrease plan at the IMO “is not an easy task”, alongside calling for IMO member states’ representatives to consider the safety and practical issues impacting vessels and any possible effect of commitments on world trade.
There’s less ability for owners to push back on things like emissions and carbon control because there’s a global movement to improve that
“The ambitious objectives that have been set will require adequate technological solutions, as our association has argued many times thus far,” INTERCARGO said. “GHG emissions largely depend on the design and the technology of the constructed ships, their engines and machinery, and the fuels used for propulsion. Shipowners are the users of the ships and the technologies they feature, as made available by shipbuilders and manufacturers, and utilise the fuels made available by suppliers. Another critical aspect is that very often it is the charterers who have the responsibility about how vessels are utilised. Yet, it is certain that our members — the dry bulk shipowners — will embrace and fully support any competitive technological solutions with better GHG footprint that will be made available to the market, as they have done in the past.”
Drewry associate and dry bulk specialist Susan Oatway commented on the IMO’s announcement regarding carbon-reduction plans by noting the uncertainty at play regarding shipowners’ responses to IMO meetings.
“I think with all of this, we just don’t really know how owners are going to react to any of the IMO sessions. There’s already been pushback from owners on the ballast water directive. This time last year, we thought that was going to have quite an impact on all parts of the dry cargo market, but it hasn’t, because owners have pushed back significantly. There’s less ability for owners to push back on things like emissions and carbon control because there’s a global movement to improve that.”
BIMCO chief shipping analyst Peter Sand described the 50% agreement is “historic”.
“What the agreement essentially does is to deliver within the framework of the Paris Agreement,” he said. “Shipping has done that now. The subsequent demand side impact on dry bulk shipping thus depends on the use of fossil fuels in the world as such. Coal is a key cargo, but so is iron ore due to the energy-intensive steel production. Also, if the world is to deliver within the Paris Agreement, shipping of fossil fuels is likely to get affected. The real impact will depend on development of GHG-abatement technologies. For the shipping industry, we now face a real challenge. In BIMCO, we believe that the industry can deliver on this target — even if we don’t exactly know how yet.”
With MEPC 72 having committed to at least halving total annual GHG emissions by 2050 and having taken action on a series of other environmental issues affecting shipping, the IMO has taken considerable strides towards offsetting the impact of shipping on the world around it. However, action regarding MEPC 72’s GHG-decrease plan needs to occur to ensure that shipping no longer counts for nearly 3% of world GHG emissions and that its contribution doesn’t rise further.