Another COPout in Madrid

Malcolm Latarche

Malcolm Latarche · 19 December 2019


Nation states are not stepping up to the plate it seems as the annual climate conference has once again ended in what even committed supporters are describing as failure.

Over the two weeks through to December 15, some 20,000 delegates have been attending the COP25 climate talks in Madrid – the longest on record and over running by 44 hours without any tangible result having been achieved. The event was supposed to have been held in Chile but strikes and demonstrations over increased public transport charges caused them to be switched to Madrid at the last moment.

The very numbers of delegates involved – and that is without uncounted lobby groups drawn to the event – has become something of a talking point in itself because of the CO2 emissions involved in bringing so many people together. The decisions after all can only be made by nation states and it should be possible for them to limit numbers so as to reduce total delegate number to 2,000 or so. Some critics even suggest that in the age of the internet, a virtual conference would mean that no one was required to jet around the world at all. Those critics it should be pointed out include environmentalist groups in favour of the goals of the IPCC.

It could be argued that of the 25 events held so far, only one – COP21 in Paris in 2015 – produced anything like a successful outcome. The Paris agreement should have seen signatory nations bring renewed pledges to reduce emissions year after year but to date almost nothing has been achieved. In fact things seem to have gone into reverse. The US is in the process of pulling out from the talks and countries such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Australia are, it seems reluctantly on board. Some nations including China have even been granted until 2030 before they have to start reining in their emissions with no limits on how much they may be ramped up by in the interim.

Even the UN itself is not impressed with progress with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) describing the last ten years as a lost decade, in terms of curbing global emissions. “There has been no real change in the global emissions pathway in the last decade,” UNEP says. Global emissions have risen at an average of 1.5% a year over the last ten years, pausing in 2016 but resuming the upward trend in 2017. Emissions have now reached a new record, with no sign yet of a peak. The underlying driver is the strong economic growth of non-OECD economies, which have grown at more than 4.5% a year, compared with only 2% a year for OECD members.

At the end of the talks in Madrid, virtually all that was agreed was a restating of the position contained in the Paris Agreement that nations signed up to the treaty must give an update on their progress at COP26 in Glasgow next year and at five yearly intervals after that. The richer nations are also supposed to demonstrate that they have maintained and met their promises in the years up to COP26. There is however, no sanctions to be applied if they have not. Also held over to Glasgow next year is the question of how carbon markets and emission trading should be managed or encouraged.

At almost every previous COP event, shipping has come under attack for not being included in the national targets that have been discussed and enshrined in the Paris Agreement. At this event, the industry was able to boast of its achievements and even to propose some new commitments albeit those have yet to be embraced by the industry on a global scale.

Despite being criticised as being a major carbon emitter, it is still the only industry which is regulated at international level that has emission cuts mandated through to at least 2030. The EEDI rules may apply only to individual ships rather than being an industry quota but they nevertheless represent reductions much in advance of almost any of the voluntary reductions which are not in any case being adhered to.

At COP 25 the ICS arranged a presentation on what should have been the last day of the event. The presentation was co-arranged with the European Community Shipowners’ Associations (ECSA), and the Spanish Shipowners’ Association (ANAVE).

Simon Bennett, ICS Deputy Secretary General underlined shipping’s achievements and mandatory obligations saying, "There are already mandatory CO2 reduction regulations in force globally that will require all new ships to be at least 30% more carbon-efficient by 2025, with a 50% improvement by large containerships by 2022. In line with the ambitious CO2 reduction targets which IMO Member States agreed last year, the IMO will adopt a new package of regulations in 2020 with a focus on operational fuel efficiency and speed optimisation. This should ensure further CO2 reductions by 2023 and that the sector is on track to exceed the IMO target of a 40% efficiency improvement across the entire world fleet by 2030”

Following the ICS’s presentation, ECSA commented on the European front following the announcement of the European Green Deal on Wednesday. "The industry fully supports the ambition by the new European Commission to be the first climate-neutral continent. Moreover the climate emergency is a global crisis, it needs a global strategy. We really need the EU to play a proactive and positive role in the IMO discussions supporting the development and adoption of ambitious international regulations to be applied globally as soon as possible," commented Martin Dorsman, ECSA Secretary-General.

It has been disappointing to note that whereas attacks on shipping have previously been given space in mainstream media, this positive contribution to another disappointing COP has so far not been given anywhere near the same exposure.

It is true to say that not every organisation or individual in the shipping industry shares the ICS or ECSA’s enthusiasm for global regulation of emissions from ships but they are a fact of live that the industry has learned to live with.

It might be a good idea at COP 26 in Glasgow next year for the emission reductions actually made by some of the sectors or individual ship operators to be compared to those of member states. Perhaps that would allow the industry to turn the tables on those who argue shipping emits more than countries the size of Germany by saying “To date, shipping has reduced its emissions by more than X, Y and Z countries combined.

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