Frustration Grows at Slow Pace of IMO

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Disappointment at the slow pace of progress on action to decarbonize shipping at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is fueling calls for individual governments to step up their regulation of shipping and encourage the take-up of low-carbon fuels. At a meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) this week, a compromise was reached on new short-term measures to cut the carbon intensity of international shipping, which critics say falls far short of what’s needed to meet a target previously set by the UN body to reduce carbon intensity of all ships by 40% by 2030, compared with 2008 (IOD Dec.3'20). In particular, a decision to set an operational carbon intensity reduction requirement for ships of 11% by 2026 relative to 2019 “is as good as useless” and indistinguishable from business-as-usual, says John Maggs, senior policy adviser at environmental group Seas at Risk. This level of ambition is the same as what has happened historically in the absence of regulation, Maggs argues. EU member states supported a much bigger 21.5% operational carbon intensity reduction, but remained in the minority when the decision was taken by the 174 IMO member states. The EU could be the first to move forward with unilateral measures. Ambition Postponed The IMO also kicked the can down the road on several other important climate proposals. A proposal to collect fuel levies for an International Research and Development Fund for shipping’s decarbonization was not agreed at this week's session but talks will continue at the next MEPC meeting in November. Similarly, decisions on market-based instruments, including a suggested mandatory carbon levy of $100 per ton of CO2 and other medium- and long-term instruments have been left to future meetings. Growing Impatience Campaigners are increasingly impatient with the slow pace at the IMO. Promise of future action are “no longer enough,” so regions and nations “should immediately move to fill the gap left by the IMO,” suggests Faig Abbasov, shipping director at campaign group Transport & Environment. That argument is resonating in the EU particularly, with Brussels mulling several measures to tackle emissions from shipping as part of an overall of climate policy that’s due to be unveiled by the European Commission on Jul. 14. “The [IMO] decision does not send a strong enough signal to maritime operators about the urgency of climate action," Finland’s Minister of Transport Timo Harakka said after the IMO meeting. Emissions Trading Plan “Now the pressure on the European Union's own large-scale emission reduction measures is growing,” Harakka added, pointing to an anticipated extension of the EU Emissions Trading System (ETS) to cover to shipping. The influential Socialists and Democrats Group in the European Parliament also decried the IMO for failing to adopt “sufficient measures,” and says the EU must now continue with its own efforts and add shipping "to the full scope of the ETS." There seems to be growing support for this among European shipowners, too, with a group of shipping companies recently writing to the European Commission demanding that the maritime ETS is ambitious and not just limited to intra-EU traffic, but covering all vessels using EU ports. Major shipping industry players and environmental groups have also called on Brussels to use the upcoming policy overhaul to stimulate the deployment of green hydrogen and ammonia for shipping (IOD Feb.10'21). Recent research from the World Bank suggested that ammonia and hydrogen are the most promising zero-carbon bunker fuels for the shipping industry. LNG, on the other hand, is likely to play a limited role in the decarbonization of the shipping sector and “countries should avoid new public policy supports LNG as a bunker fuel,” the World Bank suggests. Ronan Kavanagh, London

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