EU gives shipping ultimatum on global climate action

The EU has confirmed its intention to include shipping in its emissions trading system (ETS) if the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) does not deliver effective global measures to reduce emissions from ships by 2023. Both T&E and the shipping industry said the outcome was a partial victory.

As with aviation, responsibility to address shipping emissions was first delegated by the Kyoto Protocol to developed nations working through the IMO, a UN agency. The Paris agreement did not mention shipping explicitly but it called for economy-wide action to meet the 2/1.5°C temperature goals. But environmental groups have grown increasingly impatient at the IMO’s slow progress. A new ship design standard was implemented in 2013 but it has proved not fit for purpose and reforming it is proceeding very slowly.

In recent years, the EU has grown equally impatient and in 2015 it commenced regional action by agreeing a regulation – the MRV – that will require all ships calling at EU ports to report from 2018 their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and efficiency ratings on routes to, from or within the EU while stepping back from direct measures to reduce emissions.

The IMO held its second dedicated meeting last month to establish a 2018 interim GHG strategy. No decisions were taken but there was strong pushback from many states and sections of industry to calls for the adoption of immediate measures to see reductions begin before 2023. In addition, establishing a long-term emissions target to ensure shipping helps limit temperature rises to 1.5°C remains fiercely contested.

This outcome prompted MEPs, ministers and the European Commission to agree to commit to shipping’s inclusion in the ETS if by 2023 the IMO has not taken action.

T&E’s shipping and aviation officer Faig Abbasov said: ‘At one level this is very frustrating, as it’s yet more evidence that the IMO is incapable of delivering the required level of ambition. But it’s clear the EU has got the message that Europe cannot indefinitely outsource its climate responsibility to the IMO. By committing to act in 2023 should the IMO fail, the EU is sending a strong signal to the IMO that it needs to deliver, and that “action” doesn’t mean talking.’