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Regulatory momentum builds at MEPC 81

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Progress towards delivering the IMO’s revised GHG strategy was made at the latest meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee, MEPC 81, but plenty remains to be done ahead of the crucial MEPC 83 meeting in spring 2025.

Developments at the meeting included illustrating how MARPOL Annex VI could be amended to acommodate an IMO net zero framework within the regulation, including the creation of a new Chapter 5 titled “Regulations on the IMO net-zero framework” which contains sections on both a goal-based marine fuel standard regulating the phased reduction of marine fuel GHG intensity and an economic mechanism to incentivise the transition to net-zero.

The new chapter received the unanimous support of member states. 

Lloyd’s Register said it expects the framework will form the structure on which candidate mid-term measures make their way into regulation. MEPC 81 noted the work done in the previous week at the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG GHG 16) which continued to consider a basket of such measures. 

A combination of an economic measure and a fuel standard are expected to be chosen and implemented at MEPC 83 in spring 2025 in order to meet the ambitions and deadlines of the revised IMO GHG strategy. The rules would then enter into force in 2027. UMAS noted a calendar of the remaining work to meet this deadline had been clarified at MEPC 81, and said the risk of failing to meet the timeline set out in the revised GHG strategy had not increased at MEPC 81, but still existed due to the complexities of the political agreements necessary in the coming year.

It also saw a high probability of creating robust policy without loopholes, although this risk may evolve as the process continues. 

Annika Frosch, Researcher at UCL Energy Institute and Consultant at UMAS said: “Though unanimous in agreeing to a common framework for the amendment of MARPOL Annex VI Chapter 5 amendment, the diversity of member states' preferences on key measures signals a complex journey ahead. Yet, this shared commitment lays a hopeful foundation for the negotiations required to achieve agreement on the measures as outlined in the Revised GHG Strategy.”
The World Shipping Council (WSC) reflected on MEPC 81 and ISWG GHG 16 as important opportunities for the industries to consider the mid-term measures, including its own WSC Green Balance Mechanism which it said was positively received.

“A fuel standard must be carefully tailored to align with emission targets using a full lifecycle perspective, providing a clear pathway to ensure it drives meaningful change rather than locking in interim solutions,” said WSC.

“A financial measure, or GHG pricing mechanism, needs to bridge the price gap between fossil fuels and green fuels to enable their use in the world’s fleet and incentivize investment in green fuel production. Renewable fuel plants will only be built by energy providers if there is a clear demand for green fuels, and simply narrowing the price gap will not be enough to create a viable market,” it added.

Other work at MEPC 81 included progress towards revision of the BWM convention, a circular on the carriage of plastic pellets, consideration of the impact of Exhaust Gas Cleaning System discharges on the marine environment, and an agreement to review certain parts of the short term measures CII and EEXI at MEPC 82, which will be held in September 2024.