The IMO moves forward on bunkers. But fails to act on carbon emissions. Photo: © Shutterstock – MAGNIFIER

Ship emissions debated

A ban on carrying high-sulphur fuel oil aboard ships not equipped with scrubbers has been finally adopted by the IMO, but there was no significant progress on agreeing measures to cut ships’ carbon emissions.

In October, the Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) spent most of two weeks of talks on considering what measures the global shipping sector should take to reduce its climate impact. Governments meeting at the IMO headquarters in London were supposed to start delivering on their April commitment to at least halve greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping by 2050 (see AN 2/18), but failed to make any significant progress.

While the MEPC meeting was expected to agree immediate measures that reduce emissions before 2023, it is now clear that consideration of such measures will only commence in May 2019. The IMO initial GHG strategy refers to a range of candidate short-, mid- and long-term measures: Short-term measures could be finalised and agreed between 2018 and 2023; mid-term measures, between 2023 and 2030; and long-term measures, beyond 2030.

One of the most important measures being considered to immediately reduce ships’ GHG emissions is mandatory speed reduction – either as a standalone measure or as an element of a measure that sets a target for improving ship efficiency. According to green transport group Transport & Environment, either approach, if done right, could meet the needed short-term carbon intensity goal as well as deliver fuel savings for industry. Sections of industry oppose speed reduction but have failed to put forward any alternative measures that come close to the reduction in emissions that will be required.

The possibility of bringing forward the phase 3 requirement of the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), from 2025 to 2022 for certain ships, was discussed, as well as a proposal to increase the energy efficiency improvement from 30 to 40 per cent for container ships. However, by the end of the day no agreement was reached on this issue either, and the matter will be back on the agenda for the next meeting in May 2019.

Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Transport & Environment, said: “Time is running short but that’s not the feeling you get inside the room. The commitment last April to agree and implement in the short-term immediate emissions reduction measures has fallen victim to procedure, bureaucracy and delay spearheaded by countries who were never really on board. The US, Saudi Arabia and Brazil head that list. And all this despite the authors of the IPCC report making absolutely clear to IMO members that now is the time for action.”

The 0.5 per cent limit on sulphur in fuel oil for ships will be in force from 1 January 2020. This limit was adopted back in 2008, and re-confirmed in 2016, and will bring huge benefits for the environment and human health, particularly for people in port cities or living near major shipping routes. It will apply globally, while in designated sulphur emission control areas (ECAs) an even lower limit of 0.1 per cent will remain. Currently, there are four designated ECAs: the Baltic Sea; the North Sea; the North American area (covering designated coastal areas off the United States and Canada); and the US Caribbean Sea (around Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands).

At the October MEPC meeting, the IMO sulphur rule in MARPOL Annex VI was complemented by an amendment that will prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil for combustion purposes for propulsion or operation on board a ship – unless that ship has an exhaust gas cleaning system (“scrubber”) fitted. The use of scrubbers is accepted as an alternative means to meet the sulphur limit requirement, and ships using scrubbers are allowed to burn fuel oil with up to 3.5 per cent sulphur (see AN 1/18).

This new amendment will to come into force on 1 March 2020, and does not change in any way the entry into force date of the 0.5 per cent limit. It is intended as an additional measure to support consistent implementation and compliance, and provide a means for effective enforcement.
The MEPC meets next time on 13–17 May 2019, and a fifth meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG emissions from ships is expected to be held the week before.

Christer Ågren

IMO meeting summary:
T&E press release, 26 October 2018:

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