Speed limit proposal shifts up a gear as MEPC closes

The 74th meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) came to a close this afternoon at the London headquarters of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) with the key takeaways being further investigations into speed limit legislation and developing rules on the waste water discharge of scrubbers, while member states agreed to tighten energy efficiency targets for new vessels across seven ship types.

The accelerated targets for containers, general cargo ships, hybrid diesel-electric cruise ships, and LPG and LNG carriers cover about 30% of ships and about 40% of CO2 emitted from ships subject to energy efficiency regulations. This measure could reduce CO2 emissions by about 750m tonnes of CO2 cumulatively from 2022 to 2050, according to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

“IMO’s decision to move up and tighten energy efficiency targets for some new ships is a modest but necessary step to combat climate change. Next, IMO will consider energy efficiency measures for existing ships to reduce emissions in the near-term,” commented Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s marine program director.

The proposal for mandatory ship speed limits – put forward by France and Greece and backed by more than 120 shipowners – has been taken up for further development as a short-term CO2 cutting measure with more research and possible legislation to be in the spotlight at the next MEPC gathering in 12 months’ time.

At MEPC, countries were due to discuss short-term measures to start achieving greenhouse gas cutting goals with speed limits as one high profile concept among a host of other proposals put forward.

However, no agreement could even be found on which of the 15 candidate measures to discuss first, with Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the US objecting even to the word “prioritisation”.

“Instead of discussing substance, countries discussed process,” commented Faig Abassov from the NGO, Transport and Environment.

The working group at the IMO has now inserted speed reduction and speed optimisation into one of three key packages to be worked on further at the next GHG working group in November.

Delegates also gave the green light to a proposal from the European Union to evaluate and harmonise the development of rules and guidance on the discharge of liquid effluents from scrubbers, including conditions and areas.

The proposal will be discussed by technical sub-committee for pollution prevention and response (PPR) next year with a view to giving a decision on the matter in 2021.

Overall the keenly anticipated MEPC failed to deliver much in the way of concrete measures to make shipping greener, with many delegates voicing their frustration at the huge amount of time wasted this week on procedural minutiae, and the filibustering by certain nations.

Countries who blocked further action in general included Saudi Arabia, the US, Brazil, and the Cook Islands.

John Maggs of Seas At Risk and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, commented: “The sound of deckchairs being rearranged was deafening at IMO this week. Faced with demands for urgent action to tackle the climate emergency, the IMO became a parody of itself with those that never wanted shipping climate action in the first place ensuring little or no progress was made.”

A frustrated Bill Hemmings, aviation and shipping director at Transport & Environment, told Splash: “Developing countries don’t want a solution so filibuster nonstop. Developed countries are too weak and poor negotiators to stand up to them.”

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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