Greenhouse Gases: Global Negotiations, UN Draft to Limit Emissions

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The UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) released an interim strategy on 6 April, which calls on international shipping to reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions from 2008 levels by at least 50% by 2050. The strategy will need to be finalised by 13 April at the Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO but the issue remains uncertain as deep divisions prevail among the 173 IMO member states.

A panel of the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) is due to meet in London, where it is expected to agree on a resolution that would set targets for emissions reductions and lay the groundwork for future regulations. The IMO would then chalk out and finalise the regulatory framework by 2023.
The international shipping industry emitted an estimated 812 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 2015 — nearly 2.3% of the global total. The industry’s emissions are projected to double by the middle of the 21st century. Delegates are still debating a range of ideas on the timing and size of greenhouse-gas reductions required. But observers say that negotiations seem to be centred around a proposal from Japan that would curb the industry’s carbon output by nearly 44%, compared to 2015 levels, by 2060.
Dynamic Targets
Although reduction targets are becoming clearer, the regulations needed to ensure that countries meet those goals remain murky. One option currently under consideration calls for strengthening and extending energy-efficiency regulations that the IMO adopted in 2011. Other proposals could mandate cleaner fuels or new engine technologies, or impose new speed limits on ships in international waters to reduce fuel consumption.
Renewable energy can be used to produce hydrogen or ammonia, which could be burnt in internal-combustion engines or used in fuel cells. Storing those fuels for long-distance travel would be more expensive than using current petroleum-based fuels. But the alternative fuels could be produced anywhere, giving countries with cheap renewables a leg up as the market develops for carbon-free fuels.
Gearing up for the Future
The European Union and small island states are pushing for more aggressive action on greenhouse-gas reductions. But many developing countries fear that stricter rules will drive up the cost of shipping and ultimately harm their economies. Reducing carbon emissions in the shipping industry won’t be easy and will involve big costs, There will be a point when it will be cheaper to run on hydrogen than on fossil fuels, and we would like to prepare ourselves. International shipping is not covered by the Paris Agreement, which is based on national commitments, although it has a carbon print the size of Germany.
Environmentalists’ Pressure
The shipping industry is facing increasing pressure from climate campaigners, business representatives, the EU and small islands states in the Pacific to commit to the Paris agreement. They support a 70-100% reduction by 2050 scenario, which they say is needed to align with the Paris Agreement. As negotiations begin on April 9,  EU Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc called for a “meaningful” greenhouse gas strategy from the IMO.
Nicholas Rock and Thor Maalouf of global law firm Reed Smith LLP recalled in a note the EU had made it clear last year it expects the IMO to introduce an ambitious target for emission reduction, alongside other measures in its 2018 strategy. It threatened at the time to bring shipping within its emissions trading scheme unless the IMO sets a target for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions
Determined Minority
Jaako Eskola, chief executive of Finnish group Wartsila, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of marine engines, also openly backed calls to curb carbon emission in shipping, arguing that shipbuilders need confidence to invest in clean technology.
But “a determined minority is blocking ambition on capping emissions and defining a Paris-credible decarbonisation pathway. These moves are being portrayed as unachievable and a cap on world trade despite scientific evidence to the contrary being presented,” said Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment (T&E).
Slow Steaming
Those in favour of an ambitious greenhouse gas reduction strategy argue the technology that could reduce emissions in the shipping industry already exist, as well as financial tools, i.e incentives. Faid Abbasov from T&E cited slow steaming as an example of an adequate tool to reduce effectively carbon emission in the short-term.
Slow steaming refers to the practice of operating transoceanic cargo ships, especially container ships, at significantly less than their maximum speed. “If ships slow their speed down by 30%, they would reduce their emissions by 200 million tonnes a year, which is about what The Netherlands are emitting”, he said.
The Way Ahead
Maritime emissions are especially problematic because most ships run on fuel oil, which is far more carbon intensive and contains more air pollutants, such as sulphur, than fuels used in road transport. More than 170 governments are converging on a plan to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from the shipping industry, filling a gap left by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The framework is slated for approval soon.
It should be noted that a carbon price could be recycled back into the sector through a fund supporting the deployment of low or zero carbon vessels and sustainable fuels. Work on policies will need to start as soon as the ink dries on the interim strategy, which should be strengthened and agreed in the MEPC, opine experts.
(References: Euractiv, Nature, CNN, Reuters)
Sea News Feature, April 11