It was originally scheduled for end-March/early April so, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a lot of ground to make up.
And even after next week’s gathering, IMO’s environmental programme will still be months behind: MEPC 76 should have taken place last month but in the preliminary 2021 IMO meeting programme, drawn up last week, that is now planned to take place next June with MEPC 77 following next November. That is probably when it would have originally been scheduled, since only one MEPC meeting would have been held next year.
In this brief preview I will highlight what I see as the most significant topics up for discussion next week but you can view most – 122 out of 142 – of the meeting’s documents via IMODOCS.
Some of the meeting’s more significant discussions will be informed by two intersessional working groups on greenhouse gas emissions – ISWG GHG 6 and ISWG GHG 7 – which met in November last year and last month, with the latter apparently a lively affair.
I say ‘apparently’ because the meetings are not open to observers and their papers are not published in the public area of IMODOCS, but some media reports have suggested that proposals relating to EEXI tabled at the start of the meeting had been watered down by the end of it. One of the sponsors of that working document was the International Chamber of Shipping and its chairman, Esben Poulsson, took part in a webinar a few days later as part of the Posidonia Web Forums week.
To try to assess that ‘watered down’ claim, I took the opportunity of asking Mr Poulsson whether the decisions taken during the WG had made it easier to meet EEXI standards than was the case before the meeting and he replied that “EEXI reduction rates were amended in some cases based on consideration of the challenges faced by some ship types.” I took that as a ‘yes’. In particular, “many European ‘high-ambition’ member states supported amending the proposed EEXI reduction rates to avoid the risk of mandating unachievable objectives.”
In a related section of next week’s meeting, MEPC 75 will be invited to approve the fourth IMO GHG Study, which includes, among other things, an inventory of current global emissions of GHGs emitted from ships and scenarios for future international shipping emissions 2018-2050.
With approval delayed because of the revised meeting date, I fear that IMO risks losing the initiative over GHG emissions. In a briefing prepared in September for the European Parliament, the European Commission’s Policy Department for Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policies notes that “prior to the postponement of MEPC 75 … criticism regarding the slow rate of progress under the IMO process was increasing” and that “it remains to be seen if the IMO is the most appropriate platform to bring about the scale of change in the timeframe required.”
Because of those concerns, it goes on, “the EU is following a two-track approach of continuing to support the IMO process … but to now also prepare for unilateral policies.” This is exactly the sort of regional response IMO could do without.
Probably less contentious are amendments to the Ballast Water Management Convention that were approved at MEPC 74, way back in May last year, and are expected to be adopted next week. They introduce what to me is the obvious requirement for treatment systems to be surveyed after installation to verify that the ship’s ballast water management plan and its associated equipment “comply fully with the requirements of this convention”. I was surprised to learn that this needed spelling out.
Draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI on sulphur content definition and sampling had also been approved by MEPC 74 and are now up for adoption. I don’t expect any opposition to that proposal, which will bring much-needed clarity to, for example, the definition of ‘sulphur content of fuel’ and will introduce requirements that will improve testing regimes for ‘in-use’ and ‘onboard’ fuel.
I’ll finish by mentioning a proposal for an International Maritime Research and Development Board that has been submitted by a group of eight shipping organisations. The concept will be familiar to ShipInsight readers from our coverage of it when it was announced last December.
Its sponsors propose to establish an International Maritime Research Fund that would be supported by a levy on bunker fuel; a figure is not mentioned in the proposal but a levy of around $2/tonne has been previously reported as sufficient to generate the $5Bn of core funding over 10 years that is said to be needed to support research into zero-emission ships.
They hope that MEPC 75 delegates will engage in a general discussion about the scheme with a view to “more detailed, substantive discussions at MEPC 76”, but time is short: “the co-sponsors are of the view that this programme would need to be in place by 2023,” its conclusion says.
I will be interested to hear how the discussion plays out. Is $5Bn large enough to achieve its aims? Is $2 small enough to be accepted by the industry? Which parts of the world would pay the most and which would benefit the most? I think the discussion could go either way.