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Covid-19 slows the spread of environmental regulation

For all the debate in recent months on whether the ongoing pandemic will stymie or accelerate shipping’s decarbonisation path, there is one unarguable regulatory speed bump – the crucial next gathering of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) where short-term greenhouse gas (GHG) cutting measures were due to be thrashed out.

MEPC, originally scheduled for the end of March, has been among a host of IMO meetings cancelled at the body’s London headquarters thanks to the spread of coronavirus. Ship power limitations and mandatory speed limits were on the table for debate at MEPC. However, no firm plans have been made for a rescheduled MEPC, with one recent French submission to the IMO, seen by Splash, warning that all meetings at the IMO headquarters might need to be put on hold deep into 2021.

The IMO said yesterday that it will hold an “informal virtual meeting” to exchange views on GHG reduction from shipping on July 6 as it waits for the pandemic to recede and for formal meetings such as MEPC to get started again.

“At the heart of the IMO’s 2018 reduction plan was a clear commitment to implement immediate measures by 2021. Where are they? Whether meeting virtually or in person, the IMO faces a mounting crisis of credibility on this issue,” Bill Hemmings, an independent transport consultant based in Brussels, told Splash today.

Whenever MEPC is held, IMO will finally release its keenly awaited next GHG study which ought to give shipping a clearer indication of the best ways to cut emissions, both in the short term and through to 2050.

Splash columnist Neville Smith wrote earlier this week that moving IMO meetings online would be a “Herculean undertaking”.

Nevertheless, Smith maintained IMO intercessional working and special subject matter groups “should be able to function virtually or by correspondence, if not smoothly, then surely no less effectively than the average Zoom-enabled pub quiz”.

The MEPC impasse comes at a time where in the absence of guidance from the UN body certain countries – led by Norway and Denmark – have in recent weeks outlined their own plans to lead shipping on the road towards decarbonisation.

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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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