Governments attending a key meeting on international shipping have adopted what one observer calls a “disastrously weak” plan that will lead to a decade of increased greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from a sector that already adds a billion tonnes of carbon to the atmosphere each year.
In the five years since the Paris conference, “the world’s sixth-highest emitter of greenhouse gases, global shipping, has avoided any meaningful intervention in the sector,” Forbes reports. “The industry continues to operate largely outside of any enforceable international law, or external scrutiny, in spite of safer, cleaner, and efficient technologies being available,”
“As scientists are telling us we have less than 10 years to stop our headlong rush to climate catastrophe, the IMO has decided that emissions can keep on growing for 10 years at least,” said John Meggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk, following this week’s high-stakes meeting of the International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).
“Their complacency is breath-taking,” Meggs added. “Our thoughts are with the most vulnerable who will pay the highest price for this act of extreme folly.”
“As acknowledged by many countries in the talks, the approved proposal breaks the initial IMO greenhouse gas strategy in three crucial ways. It will fail to reduce 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,” the Coalition added, in a joint release with Pacific Environment and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
That’s not the way the story was supposed to end, Forbes writes. “To respond to [non-government organization] pressure after opting out of the Paris Agreement, global shipping opted for a voluntary approach that 100 countries voted on in 2018 to reduce emissions by 2050. NGOs had pressured companies for clearer targets over the next decade to 2030, to show the industry was serious about making this change, rather than a long-term target 30 years from now which a new set of executives would have to deliver against.”
This week’s MEPC vote “was supposed to ensure the industry starts moving forward toward that target.” But the outcome “shows countries are more interested in protecting national corporate interests than protecting the planet.”
In the hours before the committee meeting began, Splash reported that a half-dozen non-European countries were opposing the draft decision and looking to European countries to join them. “We as the Republic of the Marshall Islands will call to reject the short-term measure proposal up for adoption next week,” said Albon Ishoda, the country’s ambassador to Fiji. “We call on all countries who signed the Tony de Brum Declaration to reject this proposal as a measure incapable of achieving our long-term climate goals in the IMO.”
The declaration, a call for urgent short-term action to reduce shipping emissions, drew signatures from more than 40 countries three years ago following the death of De Brum, a noted Marshallese statesman.
But in the end, “instead of charting a course for rapid decarbonization, the IMO has moved in a dangerous direction that will allow global shipping to continue with business as usual during perhaps the most critical decade to deliver on climate action,” said Dan Hubbell, manager of the Ocean Conservancy’s shipping emissions campaign.
Forbes has more detailed analysis of the MEPC decision and its shortcomings.
The result of the meeting has campaigners turning to individual countries and regional blocs to redouble their efforts to get shipping emissions under control.
“Across the world, nations must take action on maritime emissions where the UN agency has utterly failed,” said Faïg Abbasov, shipping director at Brussels-based Transport & Environment. “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.”
Forbes notes that the industry’s impact goes beyond its greenhouse gas emissions. “The global shipping industry, responsible for transporting 90% of global goods, has continued to operate with impunity, ignoring calls for tighter regulation,” the often staid business publication states. “This lax adherence and enforcement of international maritime laws has led to major oil spills in Mauritius, Venezuela, and Russia this summer, the loss of lives (41 lost with the Gulf Livestock 1 cattle ship in September off the coast of Japan), and dangerous vessels (such as the exploding oil supertanker off the coast of Sri Lanka and dangerous cargo exploding in the Port of Beirut). Much of this can be linked to the use of ‘flags of convenience’ states permitted by the IMO to govern global shipping, such as Panama, the world’s largest ship registry.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also thrown the industry into a humanitarian crisis, Forbes adds, with nearly a half-million crew stranded on vessels around the world, even as shipping industry stocks bounce back to 85% of their pre-pandemic value.