The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) once again dodged a decision on whether to set a global target to curb maritime emissions after nations on Wednesday failed to give strong backing to a proposal to take action this year.
The chair of the UN shipping body’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) said today in London that the IMO would address maritime emissions “at an appropriate future date”, without specifying when this would be.
This ended a 90 minute discussion on a proposal submitted by the Marshall Islands, the first-ever at the IMO to directly address the sector’s CO2 output.
“It wasn’t rejected as such, but regrettably the IMO decided today that business as usual is more important than agreeing that international shipping must make its fair contribution to combating climate change,” said Bill Hemmings of green group Transport and Environment.
The EU had signalled support for the proposal just before today’s talks began, but envoys speaking at the session – including several representing EU members – failed to give it clear backing.
“The EU has long been supportive of a specific target for the international shipping sector … It is therefore supportive of the idea presented by the Marshall Islands in the submission put forward in the IMO and for IMO to start a process for the consideration of such a target,” a European Commission spokeswoman told Carbon Pulse by email.
“Beyond further expected progress from this MEPC session in discussions on a global data collection tool for CO2 emissions from ships, agreeing on the idea that IMO would work on a GHG emission reduction goal would be an important and timely signal ahead of Paris,” she added.
At the IMO, the Marshall Islands’ plan was strongly supported by envoys from Latvia – representing the EU as a whole as current holder of the bloc’s rotating presidency – as well as Poland and France.
But negotiators from the EU states of UK, Denmark, Sweden, Netherlands, Germany and Finland said the IMO should hold off – a view echoed by speakers from other industrialised nations including the US, Canada, Australia and Japan.
“The EU speakers were very careful in their words to not say ‘no’ as such but they couldn’t bring themselves to say the word ‘target’,” said Hemmings.
CART BEFORE HORSE
Some envoys said the IMO should prioritise current work on measuring shipping emissions and energy saving measures or suggested it should wait until after the UNFCCC had agreed an overarching global pact on tackling climate change at its year-end Paris summit.
But during an impassioned plea, the Marshall Islands’ foreign minister Tony de Brum argued that an overall target was needed first.
“What is needed is a clear message – an ambitious long-term goal with mid-term milestones along the way – that charts a pathway for the industry to reduce its emissions over the coming decades,” he said in a joint address with envoys from neighbouring states Tuvalu and cyclone-ravaged Vanuatu.
The tiny nation of the Marshall Islands is among a group of poorer small island states (AOSIS), vulnerable to the effects of climate change, that frequently call for greater ambition at climate negotiations.
Its move at the IMO is significant because the country draws much of its income from the fees it collects as the world’s third biggest shipping registry, making it a target for pressure from shipping companies that could easily re-flag their ships in other countries.
There is a slim chance the Marshall Islands could still opt to put the issue on the agenda at the full biennial IMO Assembly in November, where, with stronger support, it could result in a deal to agree to take action by 2020, matching the pace of the aviation sector, according to one veteran at the IMO talks who asked not to be named.
The IMO normally takes decisions by consensus but has rules that can allow measures to pass by a simple majority.
IMO research shows shipping emissions are set to grow by 50% to 250% by 2050 without further action. The sector currently accounts for around 3% of global greenhouse gas output.
Along with international aviation, emissions from shipping have been excluded from the remit of the UNFCCC climate negotiations, but a growing share of greenhouse gas output has put the two sectors in the crosshairs of lawmakers and environmentalists.
A 2011 deal at the IMO meant international shipping became the first industry to agree a global CO2 reduction strategy with a measure forcing energy efficiency measures on all new ships.
But pressure for the sector to take further steps is building, especially as the aviation industry has committed to hold its net emissions at 2020 levels and adopt a market-based mechanism.
The EU last month approved rules to require ship owners using EU ports to measure, report and verify their annual GHG emissions from Jan. 2018, with some lawmakers calling for the move to be a “stepping stone” to eventual CO2 targets for the industry.
“It is unacceptable that shipping can continue to increase its emissions when all other sectors are required to make contributions to our climate policy. If the IMO does not manage to reach an agreement, then the EU should move forward and take action to reduce maritime emissions,” said Jytte Guteland, a Swedish MEP heading the EU Parliament’s delegation at the IMO session.
Under the EU law, the European Commission will biannually assess the sector’s overall impact on the global climate, and must review the regulation should a wider, international agreement be agreed by the IMO.
The EU’s MRV measure was itself the result of the EU backing down from introducing its own CO2 curbs for shipping, which followed a backlash by its major trading partners over the bloc’s similar plans to regulate aviation emissions.
By Ben Garside – firstname.lastname@example.org