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  • Shipping CO2 proposal is ‘business as usual’ in reality

    The Commission has published its long-awaited response to the failure by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to tackle shipping’s contribution to global warming – and it has disappointed environmental groups. The proposal, published last month, is to require the largest ocean-going vessels, which are responsible for 90% of all shipping emissions, to monitor, report and verify their emissions of carbon dioxide, but no reference is made to other harmful emissions such as nitrogen or sulphur oxides, and no incentives or requirements to reduce emissions are included.

    Responsibility for international action to address the climate impact of shipping was delegated to the IMO under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, yet in 16 years little progress has been made. The EU regularly threatened to take unilateral action if no meaningful progress through the IMO was achieved, and in 2011 it began preparations to adopt an EU measure. However, the Commission decided last year to step back from its original intention of introducing a market-based measure such as emissions trading or a levy, and the proposal released last month is limited to a requirement to monitor and report ship emissions. 
    The EU’s transport commissioner Siim Kallas described the proposal as ‘a significant contribution to IMO efforts to cut fuel use and increase the fuel efficiency of ships with a range of instruments’, but environmental groups say what the proposal specifically lacks is any requirement for measures to cut fuel use.
    The Commission estimates that shipping is responsible for 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, 4% in Europe, and these will double by 2020 if no action is taken to curb them. The EU executive says its proposed European monitoring system would reduce CO2 emissions by up to 2%, yet T&E found no sound scientific evidence to back these claims.
    T&E shipping officer Antoine Kedzierski said: ‘Taking a generous view, we can say the Commission is taking its first steps towards controlling emissions from ships. But they are very timid steps. Disappointingly, the Commission has downgraded its proposal from a market-based measure that would have incentivised ship owners to improve fuel efficiency, and its predicted 2% emissions reduction seems based on overly optimistic scenarios. Even if one accepts that this proposal is only about monitoring and verifying emissions, there are several different approaches that ship owners can use to report on CO2, and some are more efficient and effective than others. The proposal doesn’t do anything to incentivise those that are better, so owners will in all likelihood use the cheapest, most basic way, which in reality is business as usual.’
    Another area in which environmental NGOs are critical of the Commission’s proposal is over its failure to include other harmful emissions from shipping, notably two climate-forcing gases, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulphur oxides (SOx). Research has suggested that air pollution from international shipping, of which NOx and SOx emissions are a big part, accounts for about 50 000 premature deaths per year in Europe, annually costing the bloc €58bn [1]. 
    ‘The growth of these harmful emissions is out of control, Kedzierski added, ‘and no measures are in place to limit them. The Commission has missed the chance to kill two birds with one stone by including NOx and SOx monitoring requirements in this proposal as a first step to limiting these emissions. This is where MEPs need to make the proposal more robust when they debate it.’
    T&E has been working on this issue together with Seas at Risk, another environmental NGO. Their representative, John Maggs said: ‘Monitoring, reporting and verifying is all very well, but we urgently need emissions reduction. Business as usual should simply be out of the question.’
    1. Study on shipping emissions impact on health in the EU: CEEH (2011): Assessment of health-cost externalities of air pollution at the national level using the EVA model system). By J. Brandt et al. CEEH Scientific Report No 3. Centre for Energy, Environment and health: