UN rules to reduce carbon emissions from ocean vessels draw fire for being ineffective

Energize Weekly, November 25, 2020

New regulations to cut carbon emission from ocean cargo ships adopted last week by the United Nation’s maritime organization drew immediate fire from environmentalist and analysts who said they will do little to curb pollution.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved rules requiring short-term technical and operational actions – such as reducing engine power and the introduction of a ship-level carbon intensity targets – to begin in 2023.

Those measures, however, will still allow an overall increase in emissions by 2030, a projected one billion tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2), equal to a 15 percent increase in emissions over the decade.

The proposed IMO measures will only shave 1 percent off the emissions increase, according to analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

“As scientists are telling us we have less than 10 years to stop our headlong rush to climate catastrophe, the IMO has decided that emissions can keep on growing for 10 years at least,” John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy advisor at Seas at Risk, said in a statement. “Their complacency is breath-taking.”

The IMO greenhouse gas strategy has set a goal of a 40 percent reduction in shipping carbon intensity from 2008 levels by 2030 and a 50 percent reduction in shipping emissions by 2050.

“Clearly, the IMO will need to take additional actions, rapidly to get on track,” Bryan Comer, senior marine researcher at the ICCT and co-author of the study, told Climate Home News.

An analysis by Marine Benchmark, a Swedish shipping data firm, projects shipping emissions will continue to rise with fleet activity because the easiest efficiency gains have already been made and there is a dearth in investment in new vessels. New vessel construction, Marine Benchmark said, is slated to drop to historic lows.

“We’re going to see older and older vessels on the water and the impact of the marginal gains already made from running ships more efficiently have already been felt,” Alastair Stevenson, head of digital analysis at Marine Benchmark, told the Hellenic Shipping News.

Even though the shipping industry’s carbon intensity was cut by more than 30 percent since 2008 overall, CO2 emissions rose an average of 2.1 percent a year, according to the Marine Benchmark study.

“To bring down absolute emissions without impacting global trade, scalable low carbon fuels and new ships and engines to run them are needed,” Stevenson said. “However, many shipping investors are sitting on their hands waiting for technological breakthroughs and regulatory certainty. The implications are that the shipping industry cannot deliver an absolute reduction in CO2 emissions by 2030.”

The shipping industry accounts for about 3 percent of global carbon emissions and 10 percent of transport emissions, about the same as the aviation industry. Shipping moves 80 percent of the world’s goods and is considered the most carbon-efficient form of transport.

Still it burns one of the dirtiest fuels, heavy fuel oil also known as bunker fuel, and the demand for freight transport is rising. Demand is expected to increase 3 to 4 percent annually, according to a study by the environmental group CDP.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development projects that marine transport emissions will rise 50 percent to 250 percent by 2050 if steps are not taken.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim called the new regulations – which still must be codified – “important building blocks” without which future discussions on mid and long-term measures will not be possible. 

“Considerable further work on the implementation of the measures is still ahead of us, but I am confident that, the IMO spirit of cooperation, shown during the past years, will enable swift progress with the development of technical guidelines and a Carbon Intensity Code,” Kitack said.

But Faïg Abbasov, shipping director at the Brussels-based environmental group Transportation & Environment, said: “The IMO has given the go-ahead to a decade of rising greenhouse gas emissions from ships…. Across the world nations must take action on maritime emissions where the UN agency has utterly failed.”

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