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MEPC 78: ‘Wasted opportunity’ or ‘important progress’ on GHG emissions?

IMO/Flickr IMO_HQ_London_Seafarer.jpg
Industry reaction has been mixed after the 78th Session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) concluded last week.

MEPC 78 had a long list of environmental regulatory items to consider and progress, but chief among them was the global shipping regulator’s actions on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

IMO secretary general Kitack Lim thanked participants for a productive week, highlighting progress towards the revision of the Initial GHG Strategy and approval of carbon intensity guidelines.

The World Shipping Council (WSC), a lobby group for container lines, said it saw important progress at MEPC 78 and called for sustained momentum to decarbonise the industry.

“Container and vehicle carriers are already investing in the development of zero GHG technologies and are committed to enabling the industry’s transition to zero. Governments need to take decisive action now to provide clear regulatory structures and market signals that drive investment and support ambitious front runners,” said John Butler, President & CEO of WSC.

The group called for flexibility, creativity and innovation in negotiating regulation for shipping.

Environmental association the Clean Shipping Coalition saw that the majority of delegates at IMO now support the decarbonisation of shipping by 2050, taking that as an encouraging development, if long-overdue.

But as the shipping industry lumbers towards adopting net-zero by 2050, CSC said the target has moved.

John Maggs at CSC, said: “States are now talking about ending ship climate emissions by 2050, but years of inaction mean that target is no longer good enough. A failure to act earlier means the shipping industry has already burnt a large part of its 1.5°C carbon budget. Talk of enhanced ambition is welcome but having failed to act earlier the shipping industry must now halve its emissions by 2030 and decarbonise entirely by 2040, not 2050, to keep global heating below 1.5°C.”

CSC and its membership called for more action by further increasing ambition at the IMO, raising the Carbon Intensity Indicator’s (CII) annual tightening to 7%, cutting black carbon emissions around the arctic and support those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment, said: “For technological and ecological transition in shipping, tomorrow matters more than next week. Therefore, the litmus for IMO progress should be judged by how much GHG it can cut, or how much sustainable and scalable fuels it can drive in shipping in this decade. Any action that is short of that is only a smokescreen.”

Research and Development Fund

One particular area of frustration at MEPC 78 was the failure to adopt a research and development fund to invest in green technology development for shipping.

International Chamber of Shipping secretary general Guy Platten, said: “By refusing to take forward the shipping industry’s proposed research and development fund, the IMO has wasted its opportunity to kick start a rapid transition to zero-carbon technologies which will be vital if we are to decarbonise completely by 2050.”

Platten blamed the failure of the proposal on “short-sighted political manoeuvring” and warned it could lead to sustained high financial risk in green investments.

The proposal would have taken $2 per tonne from consumed marine fuel globally to provide $5bn of funding for research and development programmes.

“Some claimed that the fund was a market-based measure and did not go far enough, deliberately misinterpreting our intention. The fund was never presented as a carbon pricing measure, which, although being an additional measure which we also fully support, is politically far more complex and will take many more years to develop. If governments had shown the political will, the separate R&D fund could have been up and running next year, raising billions of dollars from industry at no cost to governments,” said Platten.

WSC it was unfortunate that the International Maritime Research Board (IMRB) and International Maritime Research Fund (IMRF) were not established at MEPC 78, but said it saw increased recognition of the importance of R&D in decarbonising the maritime industry.

Mediterranean SECA

The meeting did agree to progress the establishment of an Emissions Control Area (ECA) in the Mediterranean Sea, which will limit sulphur emissions in the region, improving air quality for human health and the wider environment. The final decision on the ECA will be made at MEPC 79 in December.