IMO takes a step forward to tackle GHG emissions from the shipping sector

The meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) ended on Friday (July 7) in London.  According to IMO’s official press briefing, a draft outline of IMO’s strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping sector was agreed. The strategy shall be adopted next year. Moreover, the enhancement of energy efficiency measures in the shipping sector was instigated. Several other issues, such as the protection of the Arctic from heavy fuel oil spills, were discussed at the meeting as well.

In common with the aviation sector, GHG emissions of the shipping sector are not covered under the Paris climate agreement and thus not addressed in the (intended) nationally-determined contributions of countries. Instead, the IMO is responsible for the definition of respective actions. Emissions of the international shipping sector are as high as the footprint of Germany, because ships mostly rely on heavy fuel oil, which is one of the dirtiest but cheapest forms of energy. Today, about 90 percent of goods are transported by sea. Considering expected economic growth, inaction could lead to a share of 17 percent of global CO2 emissions in 2050 according to a study of the European Parliament.

As decided at the last  session of the MEPC (the 70th), an initial GHG strategy shall foster IMO’s response to climate change. For this purpose, the Intersessional Working Group on reduction of GHG emissions from ships (ISWG) met before MEPC 71 meeting to work on the draft outline of the strategy. As decided by MEPC 71, the strategy shall include a vision, define the level of ambition to be sought including guiding principles and list candidate short-, mid- and long-term measures with possible timelines. Supportive measures shall be set out, such as capacity building and research and development (R&D) for instance on alternative fuels. In addition, the follow-up and the review of the strategy shall be addressed. In order to be able to adopt the strategy at the next MEPC meeting (scheduled in April 2018), the ISWG will meet another two times in October 2017 and April 2018 in order to further develop and finalise the draft strategy.

Furthermore, MEPC 71 has adopted guidelines for the verification of ship fuel consumption data to support the implementation of the mandatory energy efficiency requirements. Guidelines for the development and management of the IMO Ship Fuel Oil Consumption Database, which had been agreed at the 70th MEPC meeting, were adopted as well. In addition, the MEPC initiated a process for the revision of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI). However, a study of CE Delft has revealed that the efficiency of new ships got worse in 2016.

Beyond that, MEPC 71 has decided to initiate work for the protection of the Arctic from heavy fuel oil. Parties are invited to propose respective measures until the next meeting. In Antarctica, the use of heavy fuel oil has already been banned. Besides, a Natural Park with coral reefs in the Philippines has been designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA). PSSAs are particularly vulnerable to damage by maritime activities, which is why higher protections apply for these areas. Additionally, the implementation of the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention and of the global cap of sulphur content of the fuel oil used by ships have been advanced. Finally, the MEPC updated the IMO Model Courses on Oil Pollution Preparedness, Response and Cooperation (OPRC Model Training Courses), which provide guidance for preparedness and response to marine oil spills.

At the sidelines of the MEPC meeting, a new Global Industry Alliance (GIA) was launched to support low-carbon shipping, representing a common project of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and IMO. The members, which includes for instance the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC), aim to discuss and exchange information in the GIA on topics like energy efficiency technologies, alternative fuels and digitalisation.

In addition, a High Ambition Coalition for Shipping has formed, which includes the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga, Kiribati, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Sweden, Denmark and Antigua. The group aims to ensure a high level of ambition in the initial IMO strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions in line with keeping global average temperature rise below 1.5°C. This puts further pressure on the shipping industry to take action on climate change. The results of the last MEPC meeting were largerly unsatisfying for NGOs and politicians, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, the EU and China have threatened to enforce stricter regional rules in case of insufficient action by the IMO, according to Bloomberg. The EU has proposed to include emissions of the shipping sector in its Emission Trading Scheme (ETS). Thus, the April 2018 meeting of the IMO MEPC will certainly be under close surveillance.


(Image: Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 71). Source: International Maritime Organization, flickr)