IMO Fails to Advance Discussions to Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Shipping

By Ali Qassim  

LONDON—The world's shipping industry was unable to make headway on developing market-based measures (MBMs) to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the International Maritime Organization said in a March 5 briefing following a week-long environmental meeting in London.

But the United Nations agency did make progress in other areas, including the adoption of guidelines to support next year's mandatory measures to improve ships' energy efficiency, guidelines on recycling of ships, and final approval of a number of ballast waster management systems, IMO said.

The IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) met from Feb. 27 to March 2, tasked with steering the world's shipping industry closer to global consensus on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

International shipping accounts for 870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, about 2.7 percent of total global CO2 emissions, according to the latest IMO figures.

Key to the meeting was discussion on MBM proposals that would include a levy on all carbon dioxide emissions from international shipping or an emission cap-and-trade system, the IMO said in a Feb. 22 briefing previewing the week-long meeting.

Kyoto Dispute Overshadows Debate

As with previous MEPC meetings, the persistent stumbling block over MBMs was the insistence of developing nations that the concept of common but differentiated responsibilities that applies under the Kyoto Protocol be applied to the shipping sector, Peter Hinchcliffe, secretary-general of the International Chamber of Shipping told Bloomberg BNA March 5.

Under the Kyoto Protocol, the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities recognizes that developed countries are principally responsible for most of the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—the result of a century and a half of industrial activity—and should therefore bear a heavier burden to mitigate emissions that contribute to climate change.

“The shipping industry is frustrated by the political polarization,” Hinchcliffe said. “We want to make shipping more [energy] efficient regardless of a ship's flag status.”

The ICS chief said the industry will have to be “patient with the politics.” But with the repeated stalemate that follows every previous MEPC meeting, Hinchcliffe questioned how the debate “is going to pan out in the future.”

The next IMO debate on MBMs will be at the MEPC's 64th session, slated to run Oct. 1-5.

Ballast Management Systems Approved

At the end of last week's meeting, MEPC granted basic approval to three, and final approval to five, ballast water management systems. The measures were aimed at minimizing damage caused by the ballast discharge, which can contain invasive alien species that ships transport from different areas, the IMO said in its briefing.

While MEPC said there were now 21 type-approved ballast management systems available for ships to test, Hinchcliffe said the majority of these systems were not commercially available and that scientists had underestimated the cost of introducing these systems into vessels.

Hinchclifee said he was relieved that delegations publicly questioned whether there were sufficient ballast water treatment technologies and shipyard capacity to ensure that countries are able to comply with the Ballast Water Convention when it finally comes into force. The convention requires ships to implement a ballast water and sediment management plan.

Energy Efficiency Guidelines

MEPC also adopted four sets of guidelines to assist in the implementation of the mandatory Regulations on Energy Efficiency for Ships in MARPOL Annex VI, which calls for the reduction of harmful emissions from ships.

The guidelines are expected to enter into force Jan. 1, 2013.

The four guidelines cover the method of calculation of the attained Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships; development of a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP); survey and certification of the EEDI; and the calculation of reference lines for use with the EEDI.

EEDI is a nonprescriptive, performance-based mechanism that leaves to industry the choice of technologies to use in a specific ship design, as long as the required energy-efficiency level is attained, the IMO said.

SEEMP establishes a mechanism for operators to improve the energy efficiency of ships.

Separately, MEPC also adopted the 2012 Guidelines for Safe and Environmentally Sound Ship Recycling and the 2012 Guidelines for the Authorization of Ship Recycling Facilities.