The International Maritime Organization (IMO) squandered valuable time debating procedure and process when it could have been working to decarbonize the global shipping industry, appalled members of the Clean Shipping Coalition concluded after the agency wrapped up a meeting of its Marine Environment Protection Committee in London, UK last week.
“Ignoring the climate emergency, IMO delegates wasted a critical two-week session,” the European Federation for Transport and Environment reports. “There was little or no serious discussion on the merits of the various proposals for measures to deliver immediate emissions reductions before 2023, which have been submitted over the past six months. This week’s time-wasting makes the timeline even harder to achieve, which means that the next meeting will have to be far more proactive and ambitious.”
Shipping currently accounts for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That total will rise to 10% by 2050 if other sectors of the economy meet their targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
“The sound of deck chairs being rearranged was deafening at IMO this week,” said Coalition President John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk. “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.”
“Shipping is the only sector not subject to binding climate regulation, and its remaining climate budget is fast being used up,” added Bill Hemmings, aviation and shipping director at Transport & Environment. “Speed regulation is the most effective measure on the table, [and] fortunately it will go forward for discussion at the next session.” But “we have no time to lose; IMO procrastination must stop.”
Environmental non-profits also scorched the IMO for missing the opportunity to ban heavy fuel oil (HFO) from Arctic shipping. HFO is a major source of “black carbon”, or soot, that accelerates ice loss and sea level rise when it falls on Arctic ice.
“Black carbon is a potent short-lived climate forcer that remains in the atmosphere for only a few days to weeks,” the Clean Arctic Alliance (CAA) noted in a release. But when ships release it in or near Arctic waters, “particles fall on ice or snow, reducing the albedo (reflectivity) and causing more heat to be absorbed, thus accelerating the warming of the whole Arctic region.” That makes heavy fuel oil the second-most significant cause of global warming, as well as a hazard to human health.
“After a decade of debate on black carbon emissions from shipping, IMO member states are squandering their chance to respond to its impacts on the Arctic,” said CAA Lead Advisor Dr. Sian Prior. That’s despite the 12-year deadline in last year’s IPCC report on 1.5°C pathways, and last week’s statement from Finland, as chair of the Arctic Council, expressing its “support for enhanced national efforts and international cooperation to reduce black carbon emissions across the Arctic.”
The IMO committee did adopt stricter energy efficiency targets for container ships, general cargo vessels, liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, and hybrid diesel-electric cruise ships, Reuters reports. Dan Rutherford, marine programme director at the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), called the tougher standard a “modest but necessary step to combat climate change”.
Tony Robert Walker, assistant professor at Dalhousie University’s School for Resource and Environmental Studies, says marine shipping carries 80% of the world’s traded goods, is already “far more efficient than shipping by truck, rail, or air,” and “is already struggling to adapt to the IMO goals”. He contends that reducing ship speeds “is inconsistent with IMO’s ultimate emissions goals to completely decarbonize marine shipping.”
Only 600 out of a global shipping fleet of 60,000 vessels rely on alternative fuels, Walker writes. The rest run on diesel—which positions LNG as a transition fuel that can cut CO2 emissions by 15 to 29%.
“Switching the rest of the global fleet to other low-carbon fuel alternatives will be driven by market-based strategies, such as taxes or levies on heavy fuel oil and diesel,” he adds. “However, there is still a long way to go to meet 2050 targets,” and “there is no one single silver bullet to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions from maritime shipping.”But in the aftermath of the IMO meeting, environmental groups aren’t the only ones expressing deep impatience with the process. Copenhagen-based Maersk, the wold’s biggest container shipping company, is not “satisfied with the lack of progress” at IMO on CO2 emission reductions, the company’s head of sustainability strategy told ShippingWatch [subs req’d]. Maersk recently set a 2050 deadline to make all its own operations carbon neutral.