The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) held its 68th session from 11-15 May 2015, in London, UK. Amongst the various agenda items, agenda item 5 on the reduction of GHG emissions from ships considered a paper submitted by the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) ‘setting a reduction target and agreeing associated measures for international shipping’ (MEPC 68/5/1).

What is the paper about?

The RMI in their paper call for the IMO to undertake the necessary work in order to  establish a ‘GHG emission reduction target’ for international shipping that would be in line with global aims of keeping  warming below  1.5°C during this century and to agree the measures necessary to reach that target.

Why does this matter?

Shipping emissions according to the Third GHG Study 2014, are expected to rise by 50% to 250% by 2050, whereas applying an emissions trajectory for all sectors in line with existing national action and the current negotiating text for the Paris Climate Agreement (IPCC ARS RCP 2.6), shipping is forecast to constitute between 6% and 14% of total anthropogenic COemissions in 2050. This will be despite existing policies to address emissions at the design stage (Energy Efficiency Design Index) and within operations (Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan).

What actually transpired in the plenary?

A 23 page transcript of the voice recording of the Secretary General’s address and of the 90 minute discussion that followed was analysed by Domagoj Baresic, a PhD student from the shipping research group at the UCL Energy Institute. Out of the 171 IMO member states, 52 states and 1 NGO with an observer status participated in the plenary discussion concerning the RMI submission. Of the 52 member states that participated in the plenary discussion, 28 were in direct alignment or support with the RMI proposal whereas 24 were either neutral in their response or showed opposition to it.

Of the 28 member states that aligned themselves with the RMI proposal, the majority were from Europe (71%) and Oceania (14%), whereas of the 24 member states that were either neutral in their response or opposed, most were from Asia (29%), Africa and South America (21% each).

Most points of discussions of the opposition/neutrality member states concentrated on four specific arguments. Member states stressed the need to progress and finalise the proposed fuel consumption data collection system that has been under debate at IMO for several meetings. It was also emphasised that the adoption of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) is a great achievement for decreasing emissions on a ship-by-ship basis and some emphasised that this work should guide the way forward in developing future abatement measures. Several member states argued that the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21) of the UNFCC should be the main forum for discussing issues relating to a GHG target for shipping, and two highlighted the need for further technology transfer from developed to developing countries and made arguments alluding to the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities

What does a target mean for shipping?

Following the discussion at plenary, and at the back of a joint report published by the Shipping in Changing Climates project, a presentation by Dr. Tristan Smith of UCL Energy Institute and the Dr. Alice Bows-Larking of University of Manchester gave their view of what a target for shipping would look like.

The analysis showed how avoiding 2°C of warming, whilst maintaining shipping’s present 2-3% share of total anthropogenic CO2, requires at least a halving of its CO2 emissions by 2050. CO2 trajectories for three ship types, container ships, dry bulk (e.g. coal) and wet bulk (e.g. oil) were presented under constraints of avoiding both a 2°C temperature rise as well as a 1.5°C rise above pre-industrial levels. The results show that the global fleet will need to be at least twice as efficient by 2030 compared with today under the 2°C target. This is significantly more stringent than currently debated levels.

What next?

Whilst the plenary session concluded that the discussions will be picked up by the MEPC at a later date, perhaps MEPC 70, the discussions point towards the fact that planning for change cannot start soon enough – if it’s going to have a minimum impact on international shipping and global trade.

Credits – Domagoj Baresic, Dr Nishatabbas Rehmatulla & Dr Tristan Smith