The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) once again pushed back proposals for the global shipping sector to take on emissions reduction targets amid stiff opposition from emerging economies.
A meeting of the UN organisation’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) in London on Thursday agreed to forward the suggestions to a new working group to be set up to discuss the issue when the panel next convenes in October.
“They looked into the abyss and stepped back,” said Bill Hemmings of environmental campaigners T&E.
“The fight isn’t over. There’ll be a big argument at the next plenary meeting before they let the working group start.”
Countries including Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia and Russia objected to proposals from industry group International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and a group of countries seeking a mandate to work on an emissions reduction target.
A process to set out the global industry’s mitigation effort should not begin until the sector has collected and analysed ship-level energy efficiency data, they said.
The IMO meeting is expected to approve a mandatory data collection system for all ships at Friday’s closing session.
The compromise agreement was reached after an intervention from IMO chief Kitack Lim, who urged delegates not to “kill this issue”.
“We need to think about how to organise our long-term objectives,” he told the meeting.
Shipping represents around 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the sector is expected to increase its total by between 50-250% by 2050 unless steps are taken.
Along with international aviation, shipping is not addressed in the Paris Agreement.
However, the pact has sharply increased the pressure on transport sectors to take action to curb their rising greenhouse gas emissions.
The ICS had proposed to create an “Intended IMO Determined Contribution” for the global shipping industry, in the spirit of the INDC pledges submitted by countries ahead of COP-21 and to be updated every five years in line with guidelines laid out in the Paris Agreement.
“We think it’s important to set out an initial response to the Paris Agreement and to respond to [last year’s] request from the Marshall Islands to make specific commitments,” Peter Hinchliffe, ICS secretary-general, told the meeting.
“All sectors of the global economy need to identify when they can peak their emissions. IMO can develop an ambitious and realistic commitment for shipping as a whole.”
A second proposal, presented by the Solomon Islands and backed by Belgium, France, Germany, the Marshall Islands, and Morocco, called on the IMO to “contribute its fair share” to international mitigation efforts, and to develop a work plan and timetable to define that contribution.
At last year’s MEPC, the Marshall Islands requested to establish a reduction target, but the committee declined to take up the issue, saying the priority was the data collection system.
At today’s meeting, China said the MEPC had now agreed a three-step process to collect and analyse shipping emissions data before deciding how to progress, and that a parallel process to determine a commitment was “premature”.
While the governments represented unanimously welcomed the Paris Agreement, they were divided over whether the shipping sector should advance on setting its own emissions targets.
EU nations were in favour of the ICS and Solomon Islands proposals, along with a number of small island states.
Opposition was led by the BASIC group including China, South Africa and Brazil, while other developing nations were divided over the issue.
The US echoed early concerns over the ICS and Solomon Islands proposals, but did not join Brazil and China in continuing its opposition.
Argentina questioned whether the Paris outcome, which was government-driven, was relevant to an international organisation such as IMO.
“The substance of these documents should be discussed in another forum,” its delegate said.
But T&E’s Hemmings said the opposition amounted to little more than blocking tactics.
“Last year, the MRV document was not so developed, so maybe there were legitimate concerns. But now that cake is fully cooked,” he said.
He said the data collection initiative would see ship-by-ship energy efficiency data being analysed before the industry progressed to setting a global emission goal.
“Now [opponents] are saying that we need to see results of the data collection, but we already have enough data to look at in the form of the Third Greenhouse Gas Study. We know exactly what’s going on,” he said, referring to the IMO’s most recent assessment of its GHG output.
“It’s an extremely disappointing response to Paris.”
By Alessandro Vitelli – email@example.com