Shipping climate policy continues to drift

Once again, the IMO has failed to adopt binding measures to reduce emissions from international shipping.

At a meeting in July, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) was unable to agree on a plan that would cut greenhouse gas emissions by the shipping industry.

A two-year work plan to develop so-called market-based instruments was watered down at a session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), after pressure from China, Saudi Arabia and South Africa.

Global measures to reduce emissions, in the form of a fuel levy or an emissions trading scheme, have been identified, but any decision to adopt either instrument will not be taken before 2012 at the earliest and could take a further 5–10 years to enter into force, so in practice it could be 2020 before the measure takes effect.

Shipping currently accounts for more than 1 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions per year (3.3% of global emissions). Without emissions reduction policies, scenarios suggest that ship emissions may double or even triple by 2050 as world trade grows.

The MEPC meeting saw the conclusion of several years’ work on developing energy efficiency indices for the design of new vessels and the operation of existing ones, which could be used as very effective tools to make shipping more energy efficient. However, so far the IMO only intends to use these indices in voluntary trials.

“The energy efficiency measures are a welcome development, but on their own they will not achieve the greenhouse gas emission reductions needed. And they won’t achieve anything at all, unless they are mandatory, with an increased reduction of permitted emissions over time, so that the industry is forced to build and sail ever-cleaner ships,” said Pete Lockley at WWF-UK.

It is now twelve years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change handed responsibility to IMO to address emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping, but the organisation still has not adopted one single binding measure to do so.

Source: Press release by WWF-UK, Transport and Environment (T&E), Seas At Risk, Friends of the Earth US, Oceana, Clean Air Task Force, and Bellona, 17 July 2009. See also the report “Bunker fuels and the Kyoto Protocol: How ICAO and the IMO failed the climate change test” (June 2009), by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E).

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