Battle lines drawn for fiery MEPC 70 gathering

The battle lines have been drawn for what is expected to be a fierce fight at next week’s 70th meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC).

A coalition of shipowners and operators, logistics businesses, suppliers to the maritime industry, industry associations, and NGOs have come out calling for a “clear, ambitious long-term objective” for shipping emissions to be set at MEPC 70

The Danish Shipowners’ Association, Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association, Maersk, Scandlines, J. Lauritzen, Unifeeder, and 45 other businesses and organisations across the shipping and marine industry are calling for the IMO to act on shipping emissions next week.

171 heads of state of the member countries of the IMO have received a letter signed by 51 organisations from within international shipping asking for their help in securing increased environmental legislation for the industry.

There are no plans for this type of legislation currently on the table, and consideration of a global emissions cap for shipping was pushed aside as recently as 2015. The latest call made to the IMO to develop a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions-reduction target failed to gain approval.

The letter states that it is time for the world to recognise the important role the global shipping industry must play in holding global temperatures “well below two degrees Celsius”. It calls on the IMO to “match the ambition of pace of UNFCCC [the organisation responsible for COP 21]”, “establish shipping’s fair share of the global responsibility to address climate change”, and take “ambitious actions that help drive investment in low-carbon solutions”.

“Our members, shippers, and cargo owners that use sea freight to support their global businesses are under increased pressure to manage and report on their carbon intensity, including along their supply chains”, said Chris Welsh, secretary general, Global Shippers Forum. “To achieve this, it is essential that effective measurement methods are in place, that shipowners have clear incentives to provide cleaner vessels, and that the industry has a clear goal on emissions. We have joined this letter to call on the IMO to recognise that fact, and move towards unambiguous action”.

John Kornerup Bang, Chief Advisor Climate Change, Maersk, commented: “We will continue working to reduce CO2 emissions in the years to come, striving to reach our 60% relative reduction by 2020. But we are reaching the point where it will be more and more challenging to drive significant CO2 reductions on our own. Global regulation is therefore needed, more than ever, and it is crucial that IMO moves beyond data collection and establishes an ambitious and accelerated process to determine shipping’s ‘fair share’ of emissions, which will allow for subsequent definitions of long term targets and market based mechanisms”.

International maritime shipping, which transports 90% of global trade, emits more GHGs annually than the entire country of Germany—the nation with the sixth-highest emissions. Yet, unlike Germany, shipping is not subject to any international treaty on climate change, nor to any country-specific emissions reduction legislation, and has not set any emissions-reductions targets of its own through its UN governing body, the IMO. The IMO’s GHG Emissions Report 2014 predicts emissions from the industry will rise by up to 250% by 2050.

The Royal Belgian Shipowners’ Association commented: “[T]he gradual evolution toward a CO2-neutral economy is a golden opportunity to be seized by the industry. There are still many hurdles to overcome and instead of debating what needs to be done, the time has come for all stakeholders to closely collaborate to develop a clear long-term decarbonisation strategy that will help to drive investment in low-carbon solutions. We believe that this letter calls on IMO to advance this endeavour.”

In 1997, the Kyoto Protocol handed responsibility for limiting and reducing international shipping emissions to the UN specialized agency responsible for regulating these sectors—the IMO. The IMO does require all vessels to prepare and hold a Ship Energy Efficiency Plan, or SEEMP, document, but there are no targets or requirements associated with that document. In addition, an IMO-imposed design-efficiency standard for new ships took effect in 2013. However, it will take a generation to affect the global fleet, and its stringency and effectiveness are in question.

Meanwhile, a coalition of international non-governmental organisations, The Clean Arctic Alliance, is calling for an end to the use of heavy fuel oil (HFO) in Arctic waters ahead of next week’s MEPC meet-up.

“The International Maritime Organization must begin the immediate phase-out of heavy fuel oils from Arctic waters”, said Sian Prior, advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance international coalition of NGOs. “We urge the International Maritime Organization to adopt a legally binding instrument to end the use of HFO as marine fuel in Arctic waters by 2020.”

In response, the European Community Shipowners Associations (ECSA) has maintained forthcoming Arctic regulations are enough to protect the fragile polar environment.

The International Code for ships operating in polar waters (Polar Code) will enter into force on January 2017 and applies to ships operating in Arctic and Antarctic waters. It covers the various environmental requirements and recommendations relating to oil, sewage, garbage, chemicals and invasive species providing for safe ship operation and protecting the environment.

Commenting on the claimed increase in the traffic and the future of the Northern Sea Route, ECSA’s secretary general Patrick Verhoeven said: “It is unrealistic to believe that the Arctic will be immediately accessible as the sea ice disappears. Firstly, an ice-free Arctic Ocean year-round is false, as sea ice will always re-form during winter and ice properties and coverage will vary greatly within the region. There are also many other challenges that shipowners encounter such as polar darkness, poor charts, lack of critical infrastructure and navigation control systems and low search and rescue capability”.

“However, we do expect polar shipping to grow in volume in the coming years and are indeed pleased that precautions have been taken to ensure safety of life at sea and the sustainability of these highly sensitive environments is not compromised. The Polar Code of the International Maritime Organisation entering into force on January 2017 is mandatory and uniform regulation which ensures a level playing field. It will boost the level of confidence in the safety and environmental performance of shipping”, he concluded.

Splash will be reporting all the developments from next week’s MEPC70.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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