Failure is an option: MEPC’s deep divisions laid bare

“Failure is not an option,” warned Kitack Lim at the start of the 76th gathering of the vitally important Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) virtual summit. The secretary general of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) voiced his fears of the real threat of regional regulations coming into force unless significant green measures were signed off this week. His words went unheeded with a package of watered down measures agreed yesterday, infuriating many countries on a day where politicians in the US Congress discussed taking shipping green measures into their own hands.

A slim majority of countries at the UN’s shipping agency on Monday voted in favour of a package of short-term policy measures that various NGOs have suggested will allow shipping’s current emissions of 1bn tonnes a year of CO2 to keep rising, by as much as 16% by 2030.

Delegates at MEPC agreed to a deal where vessels ought to improve their carbon intensity by 2% a year between 2023 and 2026. However, the rules come with no enforcement mechanism. Many Western member states, including the US, the European Union and the UK, hit out at the limited ambition shown in yesterday’s compromise.

With the short-term measures package agreed, mid-term measures such as the Marshall Islands’ $100 per tonne global carbon pricing proposal will be discussed for the remainder of the summit which closes on Thursday.

As well as the US looking at developing its own green shipping regulations, the European Union is a long way down the track towards including the industry into its emissions trading scheme, something both China and the US might also contemplate in the coming months.

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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