IMO failed to adopt speed reduction measures

By: Christer Ågren

It is well known that reducing the speed of ships cuts fuel use and thus emissions of the main greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO₂). What has been less well understood are the benefits for the marine environment and human health. A new report, entitled “The multi-issue mitigation potential of reducing ship speeds”, shows that a 20 per cent lowering in speeds would reduce underwater noise pollution by 66 per cent, and the chance of a fatal collision between a ship and a whale by a massive 78 per cent – as well as reducing CO₂ emissions by 24 per cent.

Regarding air pollutants, the report estimated that emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur dioxide (SO₂) and black carbon (BC) would come down more or less in line with the reduced fuel consumption, which means that a 20 per cent speed reduction would cut all three air pollutants by approximately one quarter.

Commissioned by Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment, the report was launched in time for November’s discussions within the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on reducing shipping’s climate impact, i.e. the Sixth Meeting of Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships.

Despite the multiple benefits of ship speed reductions, the IMO meeting did little more than review options already on the table and give more time for technical measures. However, there was widespread acceptance by IMO member states and the shipping industry that ship speed is one of the most important factors affecting emissions.

Commenting on the outcome of the meeting, John Maggs at Seas at Risk said: “The importance of speed reduction in cutting ship GHG emissions in the short-term is woven into the fabric of many of the proposed measures. The challenge as we go forward is to ensure that this most straight-forward of approaches is taken up and implemented in such a way that all ships contribute speed-related emissions savings.”

T&E’s shipping officer Faig Abbasov added: “The IMO spent yet another week talking the talk without deciding anything except to kick the can further down the road by giving far too much time to technical measures that will deliver too little too late. Everything is slow at the IMO, except for polluting ships, and this needs to change. That’s why the EU needs to move on and start regulating this unchecked sector and include shipping in the bloc’s carbon market.”

Since the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, responsibility for tackling international greenhouse gas emissions from shipping has been delegated to the IMO, so far with very little progress.

Discussions on short-term GHG measures for international shipping will continue at the Seventh Meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships, to be held at the IMO in London, 23–27 March 2020.

Christer Ågren

Source: T&E News, 15 November and 16 December 2019

The report: multi-issue-speed-report.html

A Clean Shipping Coalition infographic on these issues can be found here:

Note: Previous articles on the benefits of ship slow steaming can be found in Acid News No. 4/2017; 3/2017; 3/2015; 3/2012; and 2/2010:

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