Shipping making no progress on climate commitment

The international shipping community has made little progress to advance the global  commitment made earlier this year to reduce the sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is despite impassioned pleas for action by climate scientists to the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) environment committee last month. Delegates spent two weeks discussing procedural matters and timelines rather than concrete measures to decarbonise the sector. T&E said that some IMO delegates soon ‘would not have a country to land on’ due to global warming if this pace of activity continues.

Shipping is one of the few sectors of the global economy not to have an obligatory climate emissions reduction target, despite being responsible for 3% of global CO2 emissions. But in April governments from across the world agreed to require the shipping industry to at least halve its emissions between 2008 and 2050. This target is a start but well below what is needed to align shipping with the Paris climate accord.

The talks at IMO headquarters in London last month were intended to get the process going but countries unhappy with last April decision were able to frustrate calls for enforceable concrete measures.

April’s agreement included a commitment to short-term measures that would start reducing emissions by 2023, but the lack of progress means that consideration of such measures will now only start in May, more than a year after the original agreement was reached.

T&E’s shipping director Bill Hemmings said: ‘Time is running short but that’s not the feeling you get inside the room. April’s commitment to take action has fallen victim to procedure, bureaucracy and delay promoted by countries who were never really on board. The US, Saudi Arabia and Brazil head that list. If this is the pace being set to implement the IMO’s strategy, then some of the delegates returning back home from future negotiations won’t have a country to land on.’

The most important measure being discussed to immediately reduce climate emissions is mandatory speed reduction, as it can significantly cut emissions and save ship operators fuel. But this was opposed by certain sections of the shipping industry, despite them putting forward no alternative measures. In addition, a decision to tighten design standards for some ship types was agreed earlier in the week but overturned at the last minute in London.

In a separate but related development, MEPs called last March  for the highly polluting heavy fuel oil (HFO) to be banned from ships cruising in ecologically sensitive waters.

T&E has calculated that the cost of cleaning up the fuel from cruise ships is equivalent to the cost of a glass of wine per passenger a day on board.

With the number of cruises through the Arctic sea routes increasing as the polar ice melts, pollution from HFO is damaging the environment holidaymakers on cruise ships pay to see. There is a clean alternative to HFO, which would cost around 6% based on 2018 fuel prices; and if this 6% were passed on to cruise ships’ customers in full, it would add €7 per passenger per day to the cost of a cruise. Using prices from the MS Rotterdam, which made three cruises through the Arctic in the summer of 2018, this equates to one glass of red wine (€6.96) or a snack of smoked salmon Benedict (€6.56).

T&E shipping officer Lucy Gilliam said: ‘The costs per passenger of a switch to cleaner fuel are tiny. It’s more than worth it to reduce the risks to the unique environment that passengers are paying to see.’