IMO delegates must urgently agree a Short-Term Measure that can achieve significant CO2 reduction before 2023, as required by the IMO's Initial Strategy
Countries at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agreed a ground-breaking Initial Strategy to decarbonise the global shipping sector in 2018. But this only set goals for the sector (for 2023, 2030, and 2050) – there is no decision yet on which measures to adopt to actually meet these goals.
The only practical Short Term Measure that can achieve significant CO2 reduction before 2023 is Mandatory Goal-Based Operational Efficiency, set at a stringency determined by climate science, not politics.
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It is crucial that through the 2020s we drive the greatest possible improvement in the global fleet’s efficiency, for two reasons. 1) To minimize cumulative emissions and remain within Paris-Agreement compliant carbon budgets in the short term. 2) So that as the commercial uptake of zero-carbon fuels occurs from 2030, the demand for these likely more expensive fuels and associated costs for shipping are minimised.
IMO will in the next two years start working hard on carbon pricing and an R&D fund to scale up new fuels etc. but these measures will take a lot longer to enter into force, so will have limited impact on curbing emissions in the crucial next 5-10 years.
The most important thing IMO delegates can do is to align their shipping policy stance with their government’s overall climate policy, and honor their commitment under the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit temperature rise to 1.5 degrees, through full decarbonisation of all economic sectors.
As shipping emits more CO2 than all but the top 5 emitting countries, for most countries stance at IMO can have greater climate impact (either positive or negative) than domestic policy choices.
Therefore IMO delegates’ policy stances will be scrutinised by global media at MEPC75, as the most significant test of climate ambition ahead of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow.
Delegates have three urgent tasks at MEPC75:
1. Agree an effective Short-Term measure
The choice of “Short Term measure” – that can start cutting emissions before 2023 – is key.
IMO is debating two types of Short Term measures at MEPC75:
- Energy Efficiency of Existing Ships Index (EEXI) – a design/technical measure (Japan)
- Goal-based mandatory Operational Efficiency (China, Denmark, Germany, France etc)
EEXI, regulating via ship design/technical parameters, risks emissions on paper diverging from real-world emissions, because it is based on calculations assuming artificial flat water, and idealised load and technical conditions. It also has limited reach, and economic inefficiencies, because it is technology-centric and does not incentivise the full range of operational low-hanging fruit of crew, maintenance, fuel, and wind intensity improvements available.
EEXI also removes visibility from states and regulators over whether genuine decarbonisation is happening at sea or not. To meet its technical parameters the main compliance route would be the installation of “Engine Power Limitation” devices, with echoes of the VW “dieselgate” scandal. It is difficult for states and regulators to determine whether a piece of software governing a ship’s engine has been switched on or off in the middle of the ocean.
EEXI also carries reputational risks over “greenwashing” for countries supporting it, because at Japan’s proposed level of stringency, it would achieve almost zero real-world CO2 reductions versus business as usual growth by 2030, according to a study by ICCT, let alone any absolute reductions.
Start work on Long-Term measures
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