Mid-April this year, the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) met in London for its 69th session to discuss various environmental issues related to shipping, including reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Despite having slightly different asks, the four submissions that were tabled under agenda item 7 all advocated that IMO begin work to define what shipping’s contribution to global efforts to reduce GHG emissions should be.

Researchers from UMAS and the University of the South Pacific (USP) undertook a comprehensive analysis of the discussions under this agenda item, the findings of which are shared in this article. A comparison has also been done against the outcomes of MEPC 68 on the same issue.


In May 2015, the Republic of the Marshall Islands – the world’s third largest ship registry – submitted a paper to MEPC 68, calling for IMO to establish a GHG emission reduction target for international shipping consistent with keeping global warming below 1.5°C and to agree the measures necessary to reach that target. The paper was supported by 28 countries, mostly European states and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), but ultimately the decision to progress the paper’s suggested action was postponed. Two events were attributed to the postponement – uncertainty on the outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP 21) in Paris, and the need to progress and finalise a data collection system on ship’s fuel consumption that had been under debate at IMO for several meetings. A full analysis of the MEPC 68 discussion can be found here


With the strength of the Paris outcome recognised, and good progress made during an IMO intersessional on the fuel reporting system, a number of countries decided to revive discussions on defining shipping’s contribution to global GHG reduction efforts. Together with the Solomon Islands, Belgium, France, Germany and Morocco, the Marshall Islands co-sponsored a paper to MEPC 69 (MEPC 69/7/2) calling for the development of a work plan to define shipping’s ‘fair share’ in reducing its GHG emissions.

In addition, the shipping industry submitted three papers, which were largely in line with the co-sponsored ‘fair share’ submission:

  • MEPC 69/7/1 (International Chamber of Shipping): advocates development of an Intended IMO Determined Contribution on CO2 reduction for the international shipping sector
  • MEPC 69/7/3 (Clean Shipping Coalition): supports the proposed ‘fair share’ discussion
  • MEPC 69/7/4 (World Shipping Council, Cruise Lines Industry Association, INTERTANKO, International
  • Parcel Tanker Association): supports the proposed ‘fair share’ discussion and proposes a number of principles for the consideration of international shipping’s ‘fair share’.


Out of IMO’s 171 Member States (MS), 100 were represented at MEPC 69 of which 58 intervened in the discussions on the four above-mentioned documents – resulting in 31 MS expressing full support (53%), 7 supporting in principle (12%) and 20 not supporting the proposals (35%).

Those MS supporting the proposals (including full and in principle support) were primarily from Europe (50%) and Oceania (21%), whereas opposition was mostly noted from Asian (45%) and South American MS (25%).

Another interesting finding of the analysis is that the supporting countries (inclusive of support in principle) combine just over 70% of the world’s total tonnage. Eight of the ten largest flag states were either supportive or supportive in principle. When looking at beneficial ownership, however, the two groups roughly balance each other out: the 38 supportive IMO MS make up 41% of the global merchant fleet by beneficial ownership, which is only marginally higher than the 40% share of the non-supporting countries.

Those MS that were not supportive of the submissions supported their case with a number of concerns and arguments, which are listed in the figure below. They mostly argued that:

data on ship’s fuel consumption would first have to be collected and analysed according to the three-step approach of IMO’s global data collection system before shipping’s contribution to international efforts to reduce GHG emissions could be defined;
a GHG reduction objective for the shipping industry could lead to higher transport costs and have negative impacts on their developing economies; and
the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities and Respective Capabilities (CBDR-RC) would need to be taken into consideration when defining any further commitment to mitigate shipping’s GHG emissions.

Following the MS’ interventions, the MEPC Chairman summarised the debate and suggested next steps to the plenary, which triggered a new round of discussion. 45 MS made interventions, out of which 30 expressed support for the Chair’s suggestion (i.e. 75% of total interventions) whereas 15 were not supportive. 55 MS abstained (note that some countries had already stated their positions in the initial discussion on submissions and chose not to intervene in this segment). A breakdown, by geographical region, of the number of countries supporting and opposing the Chairman’s sum-up is given in the figure below.

The MS that did not support the sum-up disagreed with the last two of eight points proposed initially by the Chairman, which were:

The development of a work plan for an appropriate long-term objective for the organisation should be properly structured to consider issues raised in this extensive debate.
Details of a work plan to be further considered at MEPC 70 with the establishment of a working group taking into account all documents submitted to this session and invitation to further proposals for such analysis.
Opposing countries again argued on the basis of the CBDR-RC issue, transport cost impacts on remote and developing countries, completion of IMO’s three-step approach, implementation of energy efficiency measures being the right approach and added that running two complex negotiations (data collection and GHG reduction) simultaneously at future MEPC sessions would create difficulties.

In the end, MS came to a consensus as they supported the Chairman’s proposed next steps and “agreed to establish a working group under this item at MEPC 70, with a view to an in-depth discussion on how to progress the matter, taking into account all documents submitted to this session and comments made, and any further related proposals.” [1]


When comparing the submissions, participation and outcome of the discussion on the agenda item ‘Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships’ at MEPC 68 and MEPC 69, a few key differences can be noted.

At MEPC 68, the discussion on determining shipping’s contribution to global GHG reduction efforts was spearheaded by one single country, the Republic of the Marshall Islands. At MEPC 69, the Marshall Islands still played a leading role, but this time in a coalition of six countries. Furthermore, different industry organisations had submitted proposals, which were largely along the same lines as the country coalition submission and therefore this could be interpreted as a sign of increasing industry support for a sectoral GHG reduction target.

Furthermore, the discussion spanned various regions, not just in terms of the countries co-sponsoring the submission, but also related to the support voiced during the plenary discussion. Both at MEPC 68 and 69, the majority of support came from countries in Europe and Oceania, however, the number of supporting MS from Africa, North & Central America and Asia has increased since MEPC 68.

Moreover, support grew in terms of percentage – 54% were in favour of the Marshall Islands proposal at MEPC 68 compared to 65% supporting the four proposals at MEPC 69. This increased level of support is mirrored in the different outcomes of the debate: while the discussion at MEPC 68 was postponed indefinitely, at MEPC 69 it has resulted in the decision to establish a working group at MEPC 70 from 24–28 October 2016.

These developments might indicate that the shipping industry is increasingly concerned with developing a long-term sectoral climate change strategy and willing to take more stringent climate mitigation actions beyond those already in place. This may be a result of, and would be in line with, the commitment and level of ambition shown by countries during COP 21 last year in Paris.

[1] IMO (2016) Report of the Marine Environment Protection Committee on its sixty-ninth session, MEPC 69/7/21