Congress dusts off green shipping bill as MEPC struggles to find environmental consensus

With this week’s International Maritime Organization-convened Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) looking like it will deliver minimal additional green targets for shipping, over in Congress in Washington DC politicians are once again preparing to take emissions matters into their own hands.

House natural resources committee chair Raúl Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, yesterday reintroduced the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act (OBCSA), which seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore US leadership in international ocean governance. The legislation could also see the US mirror European Union plans to include shipping in an emission trading scheme.

The US under Joe Biden has made clear it intends to support a speed up in shipping’s path towards decarbonisation.

John Kerry, Joe Biden’s climate envoy, has called for the IMO to guide the industry towards zero emissions by 2050, a complete volte-face from the attitude of the previous administration in Washington towards shipping and international legislation.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Ocean Conservancy in April, Kerry said: “I want to announce that in support of the global effort to keep us in reach of 1.5 degrees Celsius and in support of global efforts to achieve net zero by no later than 2050, the United States is committing to work with countries in the International Maritime Organization to adopt the goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050.”

The US is also one of the main backers of the new Zero-Emission Shipping Mission, announced earlier this month, which aims to ensure hundreds of zero-emission ships are in operation by 2030.

The US has a history of pushing its own agenda on international shipping legislation. Following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, US politicians found themselves in a situation in which the public demanded swift and focused action. A unilateral regulation was subsequently foisted on the tanker sector, namely the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (OPA90).

Just over 10 years later, in response to the 2001 Al-Qaeda attacks, the US passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002 (MTSA). Like every other industry-specific regulatory body the IMO was also tasked with developing a global regulatory regime aimed at securing the maritime sector from terrorist manipulation. At the time it was understood that if the IMO had failed to deliver the global maritime security International Ship and Port Facility Security Code (ISPS), the US would simply apply its own MTSA unilaterally. Hence the ISPS Code came into force faster than most IMO regulations, just over two years after related work had been initiated.

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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