Clear divisions as MEPC gets down to business

Shipping and its emissions are very high up the mainstream news agenda today as delegates descend on the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for the crucial 72nd gathering of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) where the industry’s greenhouse gas emissions will be under the microscope.

The importance of the coming few days has not been lost on Kitack Lim, the IMO’s secretary general, who noted last week: “Never before has a meeting generated such great interest – not only within the maritime community but far beyond, as well.”

The coming few days are likely to be tetchy at best if last week’s intersessional working group on the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships is anything to go by.

Last week’s talks on an interim greenhouse gas strategy for shipping saw little progress towards a final outcome with some deep divisions and much work remaining, sustainable transport group Transport & Environment (T&E) has said. EU states and a ‘high ambition’ coalition called for countries meeting at the IMO to agree emissions reduction targets that are compatible with the Paris agreement. But progress was blocked by a vocal minority composed of developing and flag states.

T&E said that those opposing an ambitious climate target for the shipping sector are banking on the need for consensus to ensure that the outcome will kill all ambition.

Delegates from the Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Tuvalu on Friday urged all countries in the IMO talks to save the crucial 1.5C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

The environment minister for the Marshall Islands David Paul said the Paris Agreement was critical for the survival of his country.

“We’re in a really interesting position because we’re among the world’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, and at the same time we happen to have the second largest ship registry in the world. So we are in a unique position to have huge leverage in these discussions,” Paul said, adding: “If we are going to do something we need to do it now. Investment is long-term. We cannot wait for five to ten years down the line.”

Speaking with Splash, Paul went on to say: “In the Marshall Islands we have a saying: Wa kuk wa jimer. It means that we are all in the same boat together. And that is exactly the case here.”

Jimmy Nuake who works at the Ministry of Infrastructure Development in the Solomon Islands, commented: “The storms are getting more intensive, we’re getting more cyclones. We’re going to lose more islands. We’ve lost almost five islands since the 1980s. If were not going to do anything about shipping greenhouse gas emissions, we’re going to lose more of our islands.”

New Zealand has made it known that it stands shoulder to shoulder with its Pacific island neighbours.

“The IMO strategy needs to be ambitious with appropriate measures implemented as soon as possible and it needs to apply to all IMO member states and all ships equally, regardless of which state a ship is registered in,” commented New Zealand’s associate minister of transport Julie Anne Genter.

New Zealand is one of more than 40 signatories to the Tony de Brum declaration, named after a recently deceased statesman from the Marshall Islands. The declaration demands that shipping adheres to the objectives of the Paris Agreement, namely holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial level. With 45 countries now signed up to this French led initiative, the grouping is the largest heading into MEPC this week.

Meanwhile, the chief lobbyists for the shipping industry, the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has said it is satisfied with progress made last week at the intersessional meetings.

ICS deputy secretary general, Simon Bennett commented: “[T]he goals now tentatively agreed by most governments for short term efficiency improvement, and for midcentury GHG reduction by the sector as whole, should be sufficiently ambitious to provide the signal needed to stimulate the development of zero CO2 fuels, so we can collectively get on with the job of eliminating green house gas emissions from shipping as soon as possible.”

Bennett said further “fine tuning” of the strategy would be needed at MEPC this week, but governments should stick to the “carefully crafted political package” that has been negotiated.

Bennett warned governments should refrain so far as possible from reopening major substantive issues unless they wish to risk unravel what he described as a “very significant climate deal”.

Splash will be reporting from MEPC all week.


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.


  1. Hi Sam – its certainly delicately poised as we head into MEPC72 proper. And great to see NZ coming out so strongly in step with the rest of the Pacific. Kia Kaha kiwis. Please do us proud and stand strong this week. Here in Fiji were preparing for the next cyclone due in tomorrow – the last one was a week ago, 5 dead and we’re still counting the damage. Response services are stretched thin. In the past 3 years thats Vanuatu, Fiji, Tonga and Samoa that have taken repeated hits from major cyclonic activity, including the strongest tropical cyclones yet recorded. All these states are still in recovery mode.

    I wanted to correct ICS’s statement for the record – there is no “tentative agreement” as yet on goals by nation states. There was a concensus decision by the majority at IWSG to progress the Chairs J7 paper as the basis for further deliberation by the Committee as opposed to the alternate and much weaker proposal by US, Brazil et al for a baseline position with no figures or measurable targets. Nothing else is yet agreed, tentatively or otherwise, and all options remain on the table. and it is a little mischievous for ICS to spin this in this manner. Not unexpected though in these days of Trumpism and false news.

    If your reporting is word for word accurate I’d also point to the tone of language being employed by these senior industry representatives in their messaging to states – “demand”, “warn”. Pretty strong language for the private sector to be talking to nation States with isn’t it? I dont think our Pacific leaders need threatening in this manner. They have done nothing to deserve such bullying and they are fully aware of the gravity of these decisions. The industry might do well to consider investing in the learning the art of measured diplomacy for its representatives if it wants to continue to be listened to seriously. Then again, it seems to work for Donald.

  2. I don’t think the career lobbyists for “shipping” quite understand what they are doing.

    Ships have been out of sight and out of mind for most people; this does not mean that most people have taken our industry to their hearts.

    The mainstream media have spotted the story, and it will be hard to make the shipowners of the world out to be the “good guys”

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