On the Hot Seat
5th June 2009 21:13 GMT

The countdown has started until MEPC 59, where an IMO committee will meet to address greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) from shipping, a contentious endeavor sure to take center stage.  

Come July 17th, the meeting’s end, we’ll find out if IMO is up to the task of developing adequate greenhouse gas reduction measures for the sector.  Twelve years ago the Kyoto Protocol left the job of confronting GhGs squarely with Annex I Parties working through the IMO. The question remains whether IMO will be able to demonstrate to the UNFCCC, by its December 2009 meeting in Copenhagen, if enough has been accomplished over that span.  

Shipping GhG emissions are on the rise. By 2020 carbon dioxide (CO2) released from international shipping activity will constitute about 6% of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions. However, the tools are readily available to ratchet down vessel climate-warming pollution.  

An updated 2009 IMO GHG study found that improved ship design alone can decrease GHG emissions from shipping by between 10-50%, while enhanced operational arrangements could result in another 10-50% reduction. The two approaches combined could contribute 25-75% of the total sector reductions needed. The study also notes that, by 2020, existing ships could, without incurring any additional costs, cut emissions by 255 million tons – a 20% reduction in GHG emissions. Operational and technical measures, coupled with a well-designed market-based mechanism, such as a bunker levy, will enable the industry to provide reductions by 2020 in keeping with its responsibilities.  

Despite the potential for quickly addressing GHG emissions, competing international law principles espoused by developed and developing countries have thus far produced a stalemate. Proposals though exist that could serve to satisfy both sides and bridge the divide, yet if impasse remains at MEPC 59, the UNFCCC will likely assume the duty of reducing GHGs from ships, harming the IMO’s credibility in dealing with substantive environmental issues. The IMO recently felt the heat to come through with a revised MARPOL Annex VI after years of delay, and delivered… in the nick of time.  The pressure is again on this inter-governmental body to come through in the clutch. We’ll have to see if it can.

John Kaltenstein,
5th June 2009 21:13 GMT

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