Environmentalists blast UN for lack of ambition as IMO adopts GHG reduction measures


The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has approved a number of measures aimed at cutting the shipping sector’s carbon emissions in the next decade.

The measures adopted at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) taking place virtually from 16-20 November included amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) to strengthen the “phase 3” requirements of the Energy Efficiency Design Index.

This means that new ships built from 2023 will have to be significantly more energy-efficient. 

Furthermore, the measures call for the introduction of carbon intensity targets to existing ships that would be calculated based on guidelines yet to be developed by the IMO, the objective being to make them mandatory by 2026.

The measures build on the proposal agreed by the IMO’s working group in October on reducing GHG emissions known as “J/5.rev1“.

They are expected to be adopted at the next MEPC meeting in June 2021.

The new regulation will be added as new amendments to annex VI of the MARPOL convention and will enter into force from 2023.

The measures add to the energy efficiency regulations for new vessels aimed at cutting the carbon intensity of international shipping by 40% by 2030 compared with 2008 levels.

Media reports indicate that nations like the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands were disappointed with the lack of ambition from the IMO members, stressing this would not be enough to protect certain countries from the climate change impacts, especially the vulnerable island nations.

Danish Maritime Authority also said that Denmark would have preferred to see more ambitious requirements for ships with inferior performance and more clear requirements for effective enforcement.

” With the approval of this regulation IMO sends an important signal that progress is made. Also, the approved outcome provides us with a basis on which to further build upon,” explains Andreas Nordseth, Director General of the Danish Maritime Authority.

Initially, Denmark, together with France and Germany, had submitted a proposal for more ambitious climate rules, proposing more stringent requirements for ships with an inferior rating.

But it was not possible to obtain adequate support for this proposal during negotiations.

“The introduction of an energy efficiency rating system, going from A to E. Hereafter, will be possible to gain insight into a ship’s CO2 performance. A global energy efficiency rating system should make it easier for industry, ports and other maritime stakeholders to reward the best performing ships,” the maritime authority added.

“There is now a great amount of important work to be done on developing the supporting guidelines in order to secure that the regulation will be implemented accordingly and have the desired impacts.”

Environmental agencies have also criticized the move saying it would result in the rise of the sector’s 1 billion tonnes of annual greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade at a time when the world is urged to halve its GHG emissions to curb global warming in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

The Clean Arctic Alliance described the ‘J/5.rev1’ as extremely weak adding that at best it would shave 1.3% from the business-as-usual growth pathway of 15% by 2030.

Governments have backtracked on their own commitments to urgently reduce climate-heating emissions from the shipping sector, a joint press statement from Pacific Environment, WWF and the Clean Shipping Coalition said.

The organizations believe the measures will fail to cut emissions before 2023, will not peak emissions as soon as possible, and will not set shipping CO2 emissions on a pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement goals.

Europe must now take responsibility and accelerate implementation of the Green Deal. The EU should require ships to pay for their pollution in its carbon market, and mandate the use of alternative green fuels and energy saving technologies. Across the world nations must take action on maritime emissions where the UN agency has utterly failed,” Faïg Abbasov, shipping director at T&E, said.

The environmentalists also called on other nations to act swiftly to set carbon equivalent intensity regulations consistent with the Paris Agreement for ships calling at their ports; require ships to report and pay for their pollution where they dock, and start to create low- and zero-emission priority shipping corridors.

 The committee is also expected to discuss a proposal by industry organizations to establish a Maritime Research and Development Fund that would collect financing through a carbon levy with the aim of facilitating more research and development on clean fuels and zero-carbon technologies.

The shipping industry has urged IMO member states to take forward its proposal for the $ 5 billion R&D programme, to catalyse the transformation of the industry from dependence on fossil fuels to operating with zero-carbon energy sources.

“IMO has to ensure that no country is left behind in the transition to decarbonization of international shipping,” the IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said at the opening of the meeting.  

The 75th session of the MEPC is also expected to adopt draft amendments to the Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention, relating to commissioning testing of ballast water management systems and the form of the International Ballast Water Management Certificate. 

Furthermore, the committee will consider a prohibition on the use and carriage for use as fuel of heavy fuel oil (HFO) by ships in Arctic waters on and after 1 July 2024.

The Clean Arctic Alliance insists that increased shipping in the Arctic poses great risks, and Arctic communities are seeing its negative impacts from debris and marine mammal ship strikes. 

As drafted, the five central Arctic coastal states will be able to issue waivers to their own flagged ships and by-pass the ban.

The regulation is not flag-neutral, and it will create a two-tier system of environmental protection and enforcement in the Arctic, along with lower standards and negative environmental consequences in the Arctic’s territorial seas and exclusive economic zones, the alliance added.

Instead of rushing headlong into disaster, the IMO and its Member States must make serious amendments to the draft ban on the use and carriage of polluting heavy fuel oil in the Arctic”, said Dr Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance.

“IMO Member States must realise that unless they remove or amend the exemption and the waiver clauses, and bring forward the implementation dates, the HFO ban as currently drafted will leave the Arctic unprotected in the years to come. In fact, it is likely that the volume of HFO used and carried will increase, resulting in a greater risk to the Arctic from HFO spills and black carbon pollution for the next decade”.

According to recent analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation, as currently drafted, the regulation will only reduce the use of HFO by 16% and the carriage of HFO as fuel by 30% when it takes effect in July 2024, and will allow 74% of Arctic shipping to continue with business as usual.

Between July 2024 and July 2029, when the ban becomes fully effective, the amount of HFO used and carried in the Arctic is likely to increase as shipping in the Arctic increases, and as newer ships replace older vessels and are able to take advantage of the exemption or change flag and seek a waiver from the ban.

The Clean Arctic Alliance is also calling on the IMO and its members to step-up and take action which will urgently reduce and eliminate black carbon emissions from ships operating within or near to the Arctic.

As pointed out, by switching from HFO or very low sulphur fuels (VLSFOs) to alternative cleaner fuels emissions of black carbon can be reduced by 30 – 45%. Then the installation of an efficient particulate filter will increase the reduction of black carbon emissions by over 90%.

The Clean Arctic Alliance plans to continue to push for a commitment to a MEPC black carbon resolution which would set out recommended interim measures pending completion of IMO work to identify and implement one or more black carbon abatement measures.

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