A global approach is not for all

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 18 May 2017


This week the International chamber of Shipping (ICS) set out its stall in readiness for July’s MEPC 71 meeting by suggesting that the IMO should formulate some ambitious CO2 reduction objectives on behalf of the international shipping sector. In a submission to IMO Member States, being made in conjunction with other shipping organisations, ICS will propose that IMO should adopt three Aspirational Objectives:
  • To maintain international shipping’s annual total CO2 emissions below 2008 levels
  • To reduce CO2 emissions per tonne-km, as an average across international shipping, by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008
  • To reduce international shipping’s total annual CO2 emissions by an agreed percentage by 2050, compared to 2008, as a point on a continuing trajectory of CO2 emissions reduction
Speaking in Istanbul, ICS Chairman, Esben Poulsson, commented, “It is very important that IMO sends a clear and unambiguous signal to the global community that shipping’s regulators have agreed some ambitious objectives, with numbers and dates, for reducing the sector’s CO2 emissions, in the same way that land-based activity is now covered by government commitments under the Paris Agreement.” ICS wants IMO to remain in control of additional measures to address CO2 reduction by ships and to develop a global solution, rather than risk the danger of market-distorting measures at national or regional level. That is all very well but it was the nation states themselves that at both Kyoto and Paris decided that shipping and aviation should be outside of any agreements. And as things stand the IMO has already committed the shipping industry to a 30% reduction for new ships by 2025. It has already been agreed that the IMO will begin to develop a roadmap to further reduce CO2 emissions but there is by no means a complete consensus and while previously the initiative was being pushed by both the EU and the US, the support of the latter can no longer be relied upon and the EU may stay the course, there is no doubt that certain shipowners based there already prefer to register their assets abroad rather than subject them to EU regulation when operating outside of the bloc’s waters. On its own website, the ICS makes the point that any CO2 reduction goals agreed by IMO must also address the legitimate and valid concerns of developing nations about the potential impacts on trade and sustainable development. According to the United Nations (UNCTAD), 60% of maritime trade now serves developing nations. The ICS acknowledges that the challenges involved in developing a package of additional CO2 reduction measures are technically and politically complex. It says that while developing nations continue to argue that under the terms of the Paris Agreement they still have less responsibility for reducing CO2 than richer nations. In shipping, however, any measures adopted by IMO must apply to all ships equally regardless of the flag state, in order to maintain a level playing and to avoid ‘carbon leakage’. It is understandable that some national chambers of shipping and some shipowners may want a level playing field but that is not an opinion shared by all. There is no good reason why some owners trading wholly in SE Asia waters should be hamstrung by adopting regulatory measures just because the EU wishes to apply such measures to ships trading in similarly restricted areas inside European waters. Another factor to be brought into the equation is what the future EU position might be. After Brexit, the bloc’s international influence will inevitably be reduced and there are clear tensions appearing in the remaining 27 with a definite east west split appearing as Poland and Hungary are threatened with sanctions for refusing to accommodate migrants. Even Denmark is now having second thoughts on lifting border controls as Lars Loekke Rasmussen Denmark’s PM has said it would defy the European Commission on border checks if need be because the amount of people coming from Africa to Europe via Italy was “much, much too high” to reopen borders. Elsewhere, the rearguard action against rising populism is coming under pressure with the government coalition fracturing in Austria and the Netherlands failing to agree a new coalition two months after elections.
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