Governments to carefully weigh up shipping ETS ‘insurance policy’

MEPs’ proposal to include shipping in the EU emissions trading system (ETS) from 2023, if the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) fails to agree a global measure to reduce shipping emissions, should be a wake-up call for the UN agency, a senior European Commission official has said. The remarks come as EU governments weigh up what’s described as a necessary ‘insurance policy’ in case the IMO again fails to act.

MEPs had sent a ‘clear signal of their frustration that work on a global objective isn’t going fast enough,’ Jos Delbeke, head of the Commission’s climate action department, said last week.

Late last month the European Parliament plenary voted decisively to include the shipping sector’s carbon emissions in the EU ETS – a move which, if accepted by EU governments, would regulate ship CO2 emissions for the first time anywhere. Ship operators would either have to buy ETS emissions allowances from 2023 or contribute a corresponding amount to a new Maritime Climate Fund, unless the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) agrees a measure to regulate shipping emissions by then. The fund would reinvest part of the revenue to be used for making ports and ships cleaner and more fuel efficient.

The proposal will now be discussed in the trilogue negotiations between EU governments, the Parliament and the Commission. ‘We (the Commission) remain fully committed to a global agenda because shipping is a global industry, but the EP is a co-regulator,’ Delbeke said.

He added: ‘We’re not putting knives on anybody’s throat, but in 2018 we need to have discussions on the reduction targets. We need objectives and clarity.’ Setting a target would be a ‘useful way’ to reply to MEPs, he added.

As EU governments now consider putting shipping in the ETS, T&E said they would need to weigh up carefully whether to discard an ‘insurance policy’ that protects Europe’s climate ambition in the event that the IMO fails to agree a carbon reduction measure by 2023.

T&E’s shipping director, Bill Hemmings, said: ‘Unfortunately the IMO’s record on taking responsibility for shipping’s climate impact has been one of continued failure. The UN agency was first charged with acting by the Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and now, two decades later, the IMO’s latest GHG emissions reduction plan envisages a further seven-year period to collect data and navel gaze with no commitment to act at the end of all this.

‘The Paris Agreement launched an urgent call for emissions to peak and reduce in order to keep the planet within the 2/1.5°C warming limit, but one gets little sense of this when sitting back comfortably at IMO headquarters in London.’

‘MEPs have given the planet the only leverage against IMO inaction. It will remind everyone meeting at the IMO that the world has shown great patience, but frustrations are coming to a head and regions very understandably want to act.’

While the ETS proposal has been predictably resisted by ship owners, two alliances of European cargo companies and the organisation representing European ports have backed the plans – as have freight forwarders and European port infrastructure operators. These organisations represent hundreds of thousands of ordinary people whose future employment depends on a sustainable EU maritime sector


Like international aviation, marine transport avoided formal mention in the Paris agreement but the accord makes it very clear that all sectors must do their bit. Responsible for more than 2-3% of global CO2, shipping is also a major source of local air pollution causing thousands of premature deaths annually.