IMO clinches deal on shipping fuel use data, though emissions target remains elusive

29 April 2016

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has agreed on a mandatory system to track fuel use from international shipping, following a meeting of its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC).

The 18-22 April meeting had drawn significant attention from climate watchers, in the wake of the universal climate accord adopted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) last December in Paris and signed last week by over 170 countries in New York. 

Emissions from maritime shipping and civil aviation were ultimately not included in the Paris accord, despite a push by some countries for doing so. The UN specialised agencies which work on those topics are, however, aiming to take steps in their respective forums to tackle the issue of climate change.

While the IMO committee did reach a deal on fuel consumption reporting, which it said could pave the way for future decisions on potentially taking steps to boost energy efficiency and tackle shipping-related emissions, countries reportedly remained at odds over whether to pursue an emissions reduction target now or wait until there is more concrete data available.

The IMO’s environment committee is next due to meet in October, which will include a working group discussion on possible emissions-related steps.

Data tracking system

The draft mandatory data system agreed last week, according to the IMO, would require ships to record and report fuel consumption. These measures have been drafted as amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, otherwise known as MARPOL.

The system will require ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above to report their fuel type and consumption. This will then be reported back to the state that enforces laws for the ship’s registration and licensing, also known as the flag State. The flag State will then check that the data is in compliance with requirements, and send this data to the IMO Ship Fuel Consumption Database.

The specific requirements of the system will be discussed this October at the 70th MEPC Session, with a view to adopting it at that session and putting the scheme into effect in 2018.

Emissions debate

While the data collection decision was welcomed by top IMO officials as a step in the right direction, no such agreement has been reached regarding setting a target for limiting the shipping industry’s emission levels.

“The unanimous agreement to take forward a mandatory data collection system is a significant step,” said Kitack Lim, Secretary General of the IMO, crediting the momentum from the Paris accord as helping pave the way for an outcome. “It will provide a solid basis on which to consider, armed with information, whether further measures may be required in future to mitigate [greenhouse gas] emissions from shipping.”

However, this session was not the first time in which agreement on a quantifiable emissions reduction target was put off. (See BioRes, 19 May 2015)

The shipping industry currently represents about three percent of global GHG emissions. Furthermore, some experts project that emissions from this sector could increase between 50 percent and 250 percent by 2050 if it continues at current rates.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has presented a proposal for reducing emissions in the shipping industry. It calls for the agreement to “develop an Intended IMO Determined Contribution on behalf of the international shipping sector as soon as possible.” The group noted that this would be consistent with the system of using “nationally determined contributions” for countries under the Paris climate accord.

The Solomon Islands also put forward a proposal calling to reduce emissions in the shipping industry, with backing from France, Belgium, Germany, the Marshall Islands, and Morocco, according to the Carbon Pulse news agency.

Those questioning the proposals argue that the data to be provided from the data collection system is necessary before the next steps are taken. These countries, including China and the US, say that in order to target emission levels, analysing data from specific ships first will provide useful insight.

On the other hand, countries which supported the proposals dismissed this idea, noting that decreasing emission levels in the shipping industry is already of the utmost importance. 

According to Carbon Pulse, those pushing back on the proposals include Brazil, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and Russia. The US reportedly raised initial concerns over both proposals, but did not continue to object like China and Brazil, according to the news agency.

The decision to put off the discussions once more drew strong criticism from some environmental stakeholders, such as John Maggs, senior policy advisor at Seas At Risk, an environmental NGO.

“The IMO has fallen flat on its face in the first test of its determination to tackle greenhouse gas emissions after Paris, unable even to agree to develop a work plan for reducing ship emissions,” he said in a press statement.

ICTSD reporting; “Despite Setbacks, Action to Tackle Shipping Emissions is as Inevitable as the Tides,” BUSINESS GREEN, 26 April 2016; “IMO Again Delays Talks over GHG Reduction Targets for Shipping Industry,” CARBON PULSE, 21 April 2016; “US, China Resist Shipping Emissions Curbs at UN Meet,” CLIMATE HOME, 21 April 2016.

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