Press Release

UN shipping body fails to implement its own greenhouse gas reduction plan

October 23, 2020

Hopes for bold action to reduce the global shipping sector’s huge greenhouse gas emissions were dashed this week when a ‘business as usual’ draft text was approved.

In pursuing this outcome, many countries have actively worked to undermine the Initial Strategy goals of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), and have knowingly broken their Paris Agreement commitment to pursue a 1.5/2ºC compatible emissions reduction.

The impact of the decision at this week’s IMO Intersessional working Group on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships will not cap, let alone reduce, shipping emissions this decade.

The draft text will now be forwarded to the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), scheduled for 16-20 November, where Parties are expected to adopt the recommendations from the working group.

“We urge all countries to reconsider their support for the J/5 decision ahead of MEPC75 this November 16-20, and reject it, unless it can be fundamentally strengthened,” said John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, which has observer status at the talks.

Faig Abbasov, shipping programme director at Transport & Environment, said: “Governments have ridden roughshod over the Paris Agreement by agreeing a measure that will see ship emissions grow for decades to come. The UN maritime agency again showed the world it can only deliver cosmetic changes. EU countries should work through the European Green Deal to fill the gap left by the IMO.”

The J/5 proposal waters down the already weak compromise proposal that the meeting started with on Monday in three important ways:

  • No carbon intensity target, and a weakened Energy Efficiency of Existing Ships Index (EEXI): The proposal still contains no carbon intensity target, and somehow, reduces the stringency of the required EEXI for many ship types. (The EEXI requires ships to reduce their engine power to make them more efficient.) This means the proposal would, at best, now curb GHG by only 0.65% to 1.3% by 2030 compared to business as usual pathway without IMO regulation. Business-as-usual pathway is +15% above the industry’s 2008 baseline.
  • Loopholes: non-compliant ships will be able to continue underperforming for three consecutive years before they even have to file a plan to make improvements, and can easily game underperformance indefinitely by ensuring one compliant year every three years.
  • No actual enforcement: All clauses that would create consequences for non-compliance – such as increased EEXI stringency or ultimately revoking a ship’s statement of compliance – have been removed.

The weaknesses of the “J/5” text violate the initial IMO GHG Strategy in three key ways. It will fail to reduce emissions before 2023, will not peak emissions as soon as possible, and will not set ship CO2 emissions on a pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement goals.

We cannot tell the public that progress is being made when their representatives come to IMO just to thwart CO2 regulation on the industry to protect short-term profits, rather than protecting their own citizens from the escalating impacts of the climate crisis.

The UNFCCC, in good faith, asked the IMO in 1997 to address the issue of GHG emission from the global shipping sector. Let down by the IMO, the Paris Agreement also mandated countries to address shipping at the national and regional levels as part of their economy-wide national climate plans. All states must now look at this option in a more favourable light.

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