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Shipping industry left frustrated by MEPC 76 outcome

Shipowner groups defended their green research fund plan, environmentalists lamented climate inaction, while others said limited discussion time and the IMO’s very nature made it impossible to meet expectations

Trade and environment groups were left frustrated at delays over climate rulemaking after the International Maritime Organization’s environment talks ended with the adoption of already-agreed efficiency rules, but little hint of agreement on more divisive carbon measures

SHIPPING and environment groups were united in frustration after the International Maritime Organization’s environment body ended another round of talks with little agreement on pressing questions of how to decarbonise maritime transport.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee adopted already-agreed short-term efficiency measures and agreed to start discussing market-based measures, which are more consequential to the industry and the planet, but also far more politically contentious.

While shipping groups welcomed the IMO opening the door to meatier measures, they bemoaned the slow pace of decision-making created by its need for consensus among governments.

“This MEPC exposed the fundamental divide between IMO member states on GHG measures,” said Maersk regulatory affairs director Simon Bergulf. “It was not an easy task for the chairman to maintain the discussions on the right track but thankfully some important progress was made.”

He said it was unclear how shipping would implement the short-term measures and what their effects would be.

The measures lacked incentives for high-performing ships and therefore low- and zero-carbon ships, he added.

“It is nonetheless positive that IMO can now tackle real transition measures with an adopted working plan that provides a view of next steps and a timeframe. Maersk hopes that it will enable the IMO to agree on a market-based measure by 2025, as requested by several IMO member states.”

Mr Bergulf said a carbon price was needed urgently. Such a market-based measure would have to fall under the legal scope of Marpol so as not to be bogged down in legal disagreements, he added.

BIMCO deputy secretary-general Lars Robert Pedersen said adoption of the working plan had “set the train in motion”.

Once shipping knew if the short-term tools worked — and BIMCO suspects they will not — their ambition could be increased in the future, he said.

Mr Pedersen said market-based measures may take the form of green subsidies or other tools, since it was far easier for a non-state body like the IMO to disperse money to states than to agree on how to collect it from them.

There was widespread frustration that the MEPC meeting did not cover all the topics on its agenda.

Delegates had about three hours a day of working time and no opportunities for the normal coffee-break backroom talks that usually help move IMO decision-making forward.

The Clean Arctic Alliance lamented the lack of firmer action on emissions of carbon dioxide and of black carbon in the Arctic, deriding the efficiency rules as “hopelessly weak”.

Intertanko, meanwhile, grumbled that more time was not spent on ballast water management, leaving the industry waiting several months to resolve problems with record-keeping, and what to do when poor water quality stops ballast water systems working. It logged 400 such incidents around the world since April.

The German Shipowners’ Association had hoped for longer-term emissions rules to give the industry the basis to invest in greener ships.

“We need to know which conditions will apply for them also beyond 2026. Given the long service lives of ships, that’s practically the day after tomorrow,” said president Alfred Hartmann.

Mr Pedersen, of BIMCO, said the meeting showed how the global climate politics visible in other UN bodies were now on display at the IMO.

He said there was no way the session could have covered all the topics — and the 209 submissions accompanying them — in the allotted time. But the fact anything could get done online at all was “unheard of” a year ago. “There is a limit to everything,” he said.

Several shipping groups reacted to MEPC 76 with a fresh plea for states to support its plan for a green research and development fund, which was given a third shot at survival yesterday.

Groups including the International Chamber of Shipping, BIMCO, Intertanko, Intercargo and the World Shipping Council said the plan was “mature and ready for approval”.

“The industry has already committed to doing the work needed to establish the fund, a payment system, and the funding necessary,” they said.

“We can do this now, and for the sake of our climate and future generations, we must.”

MEPC 77 starts in November.


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