IMO, UNFCCC Must Work Together to Tackle Maritime Transport Emissions: Experts

20 February 2009

Because of its unique global structure, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the maritime transportation sector will require close cooperation between the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), according to experts and delegates meeting from 16-18 February in Geneva.

The UN Conference on Trade and Development meeting on the topic brought together developed and developing country delegates, scientists, IGOs, NGOs, and private sector representatives with an aim to discuss and explore the links between climate change and maritime transport. The conference placed a special emphasis on the potential implications for Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Islands Developing Countries (SIDS).

Maritime transport is a major conduit for global trade. Despite the current unfavourable economic conditions, however, projected growth in international trade suggests that greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping would also continue to increase, unless radical regulatory, technical and operational measures are implemented.

Experts say that if the industry continues to work on a business-as-usual basis, carbon dioxide emissions would increase between 125 to 220 percent by 2050. Moreover, forecasted climate change threats - such as rising sea levels, changes in ocean currents, and weather patterns - are likely to negatively impact maritime transport and infrastructure. Thus, both mitigation and adaptation measures will need to be taken.

Fuel levy scheme proposed

Experts at the transport and trade facilitation meeting underscored the point that governments and other relevant stakeholders need to conduct a cost benefit analysis in order to determine whether mitigation and adaptation solutions should come either from market-based or standards-based (voluntary and/or mandatory) mechanisms, or a combination of both. In this context, expert panelist Andre Stochniol proposed a market-based instrument called the International Maritime Emission Reduction Scheme (IMERS).

The IMERS consists of a potential levy imposed on fuel sold for international shipping. According to Stochniol, the proposed scheme would reconcile the ‘common but differentiated responsibilities' principle under the UNFCCC with the global uniform application of instruments adopted under the IMO. Indeed, the proposal suggests that financial resources obtained from the levy could potentially be directed to LDCs and SIDS.

Regional scientific data needed

Discussions stressed the importance of planning and integrating climate change considerations in transportation design and planning as part of broader economic and development policies. A study conducted by the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure in the Gulf Coast of the United States revealed that a risk assessment-based approach should be used as an integrated tool for adaptation measures to effectively generate greater resilience in transport infrastructure.

However, given that the level of vulnerability and adaptation requirements will vary from region to region, results obtained in these and similar studies cannot be extrapolated. Thus, experts say, local and regional scientific data analysis will be key. Moreover, the link between science and policy-making should be strengthened, they say.

Experts agreed that the high costs and technological barriers involved in the development of more resilient maritime infrastructure must be addressed if LDCs and SIDS, in particular, are to meet the challenges associated with climate change. They say there is a need for effective technology transfer mechanisms and additional financial resources for adaptation purposes.

With regard to finance, concerns were raised on the potential impacts of the current financial crisis on present and future overseas development assistance. Indeed, financing gaps for climate change mitigation and adaptation are already quite significant. According to the World Bank, however, its climate change assistance facility and disaster relief mechanism may have the potential to address some of those gaps.

ICTSD Reporting.

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