The general enthusiasm for cutting greenhouse gas emissions from shipping. Photo: ©Shutterstock – Kristi Blokhin

Ship emissions debate continues

While slightly stricter energy efficiency targets for certain types of ships were agreed by the IMO in May, there was still no progress on introducing effective short-term measures to cut ships’ carbon emissions.

In May, the Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) spent most of two weeks of talks on considering what measures the global shipping sector should take to reduce its climate impact. The meeting was supposed to start delivering on last year’s commitment to decarbonise the shipping sector (see AN 2/18, p. 14), but failed to make any significant progress.

Governments meeting at the IMO headquarters in London were expected to negotiate and agree a set of immediate measures to reduce emissions before 2023, but as discussions went on, it soon became clear that decisions on such measures will not happen until the next MEPC in April 2020, at the earliest. The 2018 IMO initial greenhouse gas (GHG) strategy refers to a range of candidate short-, mid- and long-term measures: Short-term measures could be finalised and agreed between 2018 and 2023; mid-term measures, between 2023 and 2030; and long-term measures, beyond 2030.

One of the most important measures being considered to immediately reduce ships’ GHG emissions is speed reduction – either as a standalone measure or as an element of a measure that sets a target for improving ship efficiency. It has been shown that speed reduction could meet the needed short-term carbon intensity goal as well as delivering fuel savings for industry (see AN 3/17, p. 16). While resisted by some Latin American countries and certain sections of industry, speed reduction was explicitly supported by some EU countries (e.g. France and Greece) and still remains on the IMO agenda.

Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Transport & Environment, said: “Shipping is the only sector not subject to binding climate regulation and its remaining climate budget is fast being used up. Speed regulation is the most effective measure on the table, fortunately it will go forward for discussion at the next session. We have no time to lose, IMO procrastination must stop.”

The meeting did agree to strengthen the phase 3 requirements of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), e.g. by bringing forward the entry into effect date from 2025 to 2022 for certain ship types including gas carriers, general cargo ships and LNG carriers.

Terms of reference for the Fourth IMO GHG Study were also agreed (the third such study was published in 2014). A final report should be submitted to MEPC 76, to be held in autumn 2020, and will include among other things:

  • An inventory of global emissions of GHGs and relevant substances (including black carbon) emitted from ships engaged in international voyages from 2012 to 2018.
  • Estimates of carbon intensity (i.e. the world fleet’s CO2 emissions per transport work) from 2012 to 2018 and for the base year 2008.
  • Scenarios for future international shipping emissions 2018–2050.

Some practicalities around the 2020 global 0.5 per cent limit on sulphur in fuel oil for ships were also discussed. Failure to comply with this regulation should result in fines or vessels being detained, and the actual enforcement is supposed to be policed by flag states and port states. In October 2018, the sulphur rule was complemented by an amendment that prohibits the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil for combustion purposes for propulsion or operation on board a ship – unless that ship has an exhaust gas cleaning system (“scrubber”) fitted. The use of scrubbers is accepted by the IMO as an alternative means to meet the sulphur limit requirement, and ships using scrubbers are allowed to burn fuel oil with up to 3.5 per cent sulphur (see AN 1/18, p.3).

But the use of scrubbers is not without controversy. In February, EU countries submitted a document to the IMO, expressing concerns that the potential toxicity of scrubber discharges could end up polluting the sea and impacting marine flora and fauna. And in May, ten environmental groups called on the IMO to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of scrubbers. They referred to the publication of alarming evidence in a US federal felony criminal case against Carnival Corporation that demonstrated how scrubber systems failed multiple times, leading to significant air and water pollution violations.

The MEPC meets next time on 30 March – 3 April 2020, and meetings of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG emissions from ships are scheduled to be held on 11–15 November 2019 and 23–27 March 2020.

Christer Ågren

IMO meeting briefing, 20 May 2019:
T&E press release, 17 May 2019:
NGO letter to IMO on a scrubber moratorium, 14 May 2019:



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