IMO Faces Climate Choices at Next Week's Summit
Next week, the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) will meet to consider a strategy for the reduction of shipping's greenhouse gas emissions. Interest groups representing environmental advocates, shipowners and flag states have put forward a wide range of reduction targets. It will be up to MEPC to adopt a particular strategy or defer the decision until a future date, as it has in previous meetings.
In an address, IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim urged MEPC to reach an agreement. "Postponing the adoption of the initial strategy to a future session of MEPC should not be an option. We have already approved the roadmap for developing a comprehensive strategy on reducing GHG emissions from ships, and this roadmap includes adoption of an initial strategy at next week’s committee meeting," he said. "Never before has a meeting generated such great interest – not only within the maritime community but far beyond . . . the stakes are high and the expectations even higher."
A range of options
Member states have proposed a wide range of options for MEPC's initial strategy. At the most ambitious end of the spectrum, the Marshall Islands has called for eliminating CO2 emissions from shipping by 2035. The world's second-biggest flag state also has the most to lose from climate change, as its average altitude is only seven feet above sea level. The most severe predictions for sea-level rise by the century's end are in the range of 6.5 feet.
Alternatively, to keep shipping in line with the goals of the Paris Climate Accord, EU member states have proposed cutting shipping's emissions by 70 to 100 percent of 2008 levels by 2050. The EU members have leverage: the European Union has already announced that if it is not satisfied with IMO action on climate change, it will act unilaterally to impose its own restrictions on CO2 output from shipping by incorporating the sector into its emissions trading scheme.
The chairman of the International Chamber of Shipping, Esben Poulsson, called for IMO member states to compromise and reach an agreement in order to head off regional regulation. “Agreement upon a mid-century objective for the total reduction of CO2 emissions by the sector, regardless of trade growth, will be vital to discourage unilateral action and to provide the signal needed to stimulate the development of zero CO2 fuels," he said.
Poulsson suggested that the EU targets are unlikely to achieve enough support to pass at MEPC next week. As an alternative, Norway would like to see a slightly less ambitious 50 percent cut by 2050, and Japan is calling for a reduction of 50 percent by 2060. ICS, which represents most of the world's fleet, has endorsed the Japanese proposal.
Nine developing nations and top oil-producing states have called for no action.
Pollution control agenda
MEPC is set to consider other important pollution-control issues next week, unrelated to climate change. It will examine a proposed ban on the carriage of high-sulfur fuel (except aboard vessels with scrubbers) after 2020, when the world-wide cap of 0.5 percent sulfur content takes effect. Member states will also look at revised guidance for type approval process for ballast water treatment systems and on the scaling of these systems.
In addition, MEPC will consider proposed courses of action to reduce the risks of the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic. HFO is banned in the Artarctic, and the United States, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Iceland have proposed that IMO should require the same standard in the Arctic as well. Canada and the Marshall Islands have called for more study before taking up a ban.