"...a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.”

IMO Initial Strategy, 2018

It’s hard to stay on top of all the submissions and reports as an IMO delegate.

That’s why, ahead of the crucial Intersessional Working Group on Greenhouse Gases (ISWG-GHG) this October 19-23, and MEPC75 on November 16-20, we’ve put together an essential reading list of just THREE reports – all you need to take part in the debate with confidence.

First up:

1) The IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5 degrees, from last year. Hopefully you’ve already read this – If not, seriously, how are you making policy on greenhouse gas emissions? In short, the world’s leading atmospheric scientists, via 3,000 independent peer reviewed studies, agree that global CO2 emissions need to be almost halved (cut by 45%) in absolute terms by 2030, in order to limit global warming to safe levels, at 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

If your country has signed the Paris Agreement, you’ve already committed to this in Article 2:  “pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.”

In case you’re thinking “But the shipping sector was not included in the Paris Agreement was it? – instead of diving into that complex legal debate, just re-read the IMO Initial Strategy. If you supported its adoption, you’ve committed shipping to “…a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.”

So the IMO Initial Strategy says that the shipping sector must also be aligned with the Paris Agreement, and your country is committed to at least pursue, try, attempt a rapid halving of shipping emissions within 10 years.

But you knew all this already right? Ok, on to the second report.

2) Climate Action Tracker, the most reputable, objective auditor of individual countries and sectors’ compliance with the Paris Agreement, this year published a special shipping sector report. Its key finding is that shipping’s emissions trajectory (the preliminary IMO Initial Strategy goal of at least 40% carbon intensity improvement from 2008 to 2030) is “critically insufficient”, heading towards an extremely dangerous 4°C degrees world, rather than a safe 1.5°C degrees world.

In simple terms that’s because improving carbon intensity (emissions per tonne-mile) of shipping by 40%, while the tonnes and the miles keep growing, leaves absolute emissions higher in 2030 than today. And the level of heat energy trapped in our atmosphere is linked to absolute emissions over time – reaching a stable, safe climate system is only possible through outright emissions reduction.

Luckily, the IMO Initial Strategy of 2018 acknowledged that the 2030 target is due to be revised by 2023, in light of further evidence.

The 2019 IPCC 1.5 degrees special report of 2019 provides that evidence – for anyone looking to make policy based on science – that the 2030 target needs to be strengthened to more like 70% or 80% carbon intensity improvement. This sounds like a lot, but versus the very weak baseline of 2008 it is achievable. Bear in mind the 40% by 2030 target is so weak it is already three-quarters met, simply by commercial forces alone – i.e. regulators doing nothing.

Therefore, since we are deciding on a Short Term measure this year, 2020, it is crucially important that we choose a policy option that is capable of going beyond the inadequate 40% target, and achieving the much deeper decarbonisation targets that we are due to agree before 2023.

Which brings us to:

3) International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)’s report from January 2020 analyses the “technical” proposal at IMO known as “EEXI”, and specifically the main, easiest compliance route that would be taken – Engine Power Limitation (EPL). They find that it would only just scrape into compliance with the existing 40% by 2030 target compared to 2008, and is not capable of going beyond it.

Starting from a more solid 2018 emissions baseline based on real-world ship operations, ICCT find that EPL of 20% or less would have negligible impacts on ship CO2 emissions over the next decade, and even 30% to 40% EPL would reduce CO2 from existing ships modestly, on the order of 2% to 6%.

In short, merely technical measures like EEXI are unable to reach the climate goals that governments at IMO have already agreed to. We have to agree some type of mandatory, goal-based Operational measure that incentivizes the full spectrum of emissions reduction types, in order to achieve our goals.

The clearest explanation of how to do this is contained in the proposal from the Clean Shipping Coalition, in its proposal ISWG-GHG 7/2/12, of February 2020. But many countries from China to Spain have also submitted various proposals for how to make Operational Efficiency work. Some combination of these proposals must be hammered out at the Intersessional this October, and MEPC in November.

The resulting measure will be judged by the public on two questions:

–Is the regulation actually enforced (by Flag and Port states), or yet more voluntary words?

–Will the measure reduce shipping emissions in absolute terms over the next crucial decade, in line with your government’s existing commitments to the Paris Agreement?

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