IMO fails to adopt speed reduction measures despite environmental benefits

Slowing the speeds of ships can have massive benefits for pollution and marine life, as well as the fight against climate change, a new report has found. T&E and the Seas at Risk coalition teamed up to produce the report in time for November’s discussions within the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) on reducing shipping’s climate impact. Despite the findings, IMO members made very little progress towards agreeing any emissions reduction measures at their meeting in London.

The benefits of reducing the speed of ships for cutting greenhouse gases has been known for some time. What has been less well understood are the benefits for the marine environment and human health. The report shows that a 20% cut in speeds would reduce underwater noise pollution by 66%, and the chance of a fatal collision between a ship and a whale by a massive 78% – as well as reducing CO2 emissions by 24%.

The report, entitled The multi-issue mitigation potential of reducing ship speeds, looks at the potential for slower speeds to reduce CO2, as well as black carbon, nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides and noise, which all contribute to damage to the marine environment and human health.

T&E’s shipping officer Faig Abbasov said: ‘Tackling four issues with one measure – and one that doesn’t require any technological changes by the industry – is pretty good, but when you add in that it saves shipowners money on their fuel bills, it really is a no-brainer.’

Despite this, the IMO meeting did little more than review options already on the table and give more time to technical measures, despite agreeing its initial greenhouse gas strategy two years ago. However, there was widespread acceptance by IMO member states and the shipping industry that ship speed is one of the most important factors affecting emissions.

Abbasov added: The IMO spent yet another week talking the talk without deciding anything except to kick the can further down the road by giving far too much time to technical measures that will deliver too little too late. Everything is slow at the IMO, except for polluting ships, and this needs to change. That’s why Europe needs to move on and start regulating this unchecked sector and include shipping in the bloc’s carbon market.’

In the 22 years since the Kyoto Protocol was signed, responsibility for tackling international greenhouse gas emissions from aviation and shipping has been delegated to the two United Nations organisations, the International Civil Aviation Association (ICAO) and the IMO, but both have made very little progress in two decades.