Proposals to cap CO2 emissions from shipping were rejected by the International Maritime Organisation this week, drawing criticism from campaigners who say the UN organisation is failing to combat climate change.
The Marshall Islands, which is the third biggest registry for vessels and is also at major risk from climate change, called for a CO2 cap that would attempt slow emissions from a sector that is a major contributor to global warming.
But at a meeting of the IMO at its headquarters in London this week, delegates shelved the motion, with developed countries pointing out that a complex verification system would need to be in place before they can agree.
Campaigners were withering in their criticism of what they see as further procrastination by IMO members, pointing out that the sector is steaming in the wrong direction ahead of the UN climate summit in Paris at the end of the year.
“The failure of the IMO to grasp the significance of this moment and make an urgently needed step change in the pace of ship GHG emission reductions was shameful.” said John Maggs of marine campaign group Seas At Risk.
Other observers say a verification system would take years to set up, meaning valuable time would be lost in slowing and eventually reversing emissions from global shipping.
“The IMO should agree now to cap emissions from the sector and then plan for a measurement and verification system at a later date,” said Sotiris Raptis of Brussel’s based research group Transport and Environment.
The UN’s maritime arm has consistently failed to fulfil an obligation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to limit and cut shipping emissions, Raptis told chinadialogue at the IMO meeting, meaning that the EU will likely to have implement CO2 controls of its own in order to spur international action.
GHGs from shipping to spike
Developed country delegations at the IMO talks said monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) of GHG emissions from shipping is essential before caps could ever be negotiated and agreed, echoing a long-term demand made by rich countries of developed nations on overall GHG emissions at UN climate talks.
Maritime GHG emissions are forecast to balloon 50% to 250% by 2050, which would then represent between 6% to 14% of total global emissions.
Free from the near-term prospect of a carbon cap through the IMO, energy efficiency of ships has gone backwards, while self-imposed targets set by big global shipping firms such as Maesrk on GHG emissions haven’t been replicated widely in the industry, especially in developing countries.
Bunker fuel is the most polluting and cheapest product that comes from oil refining, and the shipping industry has been under much less cost pressure to improve energy efficiency than the aviation industry for example, where fluctuations in the cost of fuel can make big dents in profits.
EU weighs up further action
Partly in view of slow progress at the IMO, MEPs last month agreed for a monitoring, reporting and verification system for shipping emissions ahead of a possible EU-wide cap
and market-based measures aimed at shrinking the carbon footprint of the maritime sector.
“It is unacceptable that it can continue to increase its emissions when all other sectors are required to make contributions to our climate policy. If the IMO does not manage to reach an agreement, then the EU should move forward and take action to reduce maritime emissions”, said MEPs in a letter this week.
However the EU has not yet set a target for shipping as part of its 2030 climate and energy targets.
Measures to cap emissions from shipping using European ports would be of intense interest to China, which is a major seaborne exporter to the EU, and was involved in a bitter battle with Brussels to drop the inclusion of international aviation in the bloc’s carbon trading scheme.