July 24, 2009

Bad Press:

MEPC session attracts criticism of Shipping Industry.

The recently concluded fifty ninth session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) saw delegates agreeing to proposals aimed at cutting carbon emissions from ships. Environmental groups, however, were critical of the MEPC proposals, saying that strong legislation was required instead of the voluntary proposals that resulted from the MEPC session. In any case, they said, the proposals fell way short of what was needed.

The run up to the MEPC session saw media criticism of the maritime industries coming to the forefront. Many environmental campaigners accuse the maritime industry of dawdling on climate change issues for more than a decade. International environmental groups have long protested that shipping and aviation are the only industry sectors unregulated by the Kyoto Protocol that targeted greenhouse gas emissions starting 2008. The BBC reported last week that, “since 1990, the Kyoto baseline year, global shipping's emissions have risen by 85% (Second IMO GHG Study 2009)” and that shipping now emitted more CO2 (870 million tonnes each year) than UK's entire economy. Obviously, if the maritime industry were a country, it would rank amongst the culprits emitting high greenhouse gases.

The shipping industry is responsible for three percent of global CO2 emissions today. Critics have long argued that this percentage would rise by 150 to 250% by 2050, given increasing trade, unless steps were taken urgently to improve emissions from ships. Pressure is now growing on the industry to make changes, and soon. A critical climate change summit is due in December in Copenhagen, and the present MEPC session is seen by many to be a precursor to that conference, which is part of a broad UN proposed climate change agreement.

MEPC Delegates approved non compulsory measures to reduce greenhouse emissions from ships. The steps are both technical and operational and include modification of designs in new ships to make them more environmentally friendly. The IMO statement that these were interim and voluntary guidelines sparked off protests from many environmentalists. The WWF’s head of transport policy, Peter Lockley said that the IMO proposals should have been mandatory with set targets. "This does not meet our demands or what is necessary to protect the climate and we are going to call on the UNFCCC to set targets and timelines and guiding principles," he said. The UNFCCC is the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Peter Hinchliffe, marine director with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) told Reuters that the proposals were an important first step and indicated that shippers wanted these formalised into law. Other industry bosses agree, in private, that given shipping's global nature, any solution must be directed by the IMO. Analysts agree that the IMO has been slow to come up with a workable framework to curb emissions from ships because of obfuscation by Member States. IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos disagreed when he told MEPC delegates last week that they should avoid the temptation to seek "overly ambitious results we cannot deliver." The IMO is facing additional pressure from developing countries who say that they should not be penalised as heavily as rich nations who have contributed disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions.

Nevertheless, some countries have already proposed legislation: France, for example, has called for curbs to ship emissions to be mandated at Copenhagen. Australia has often expressed frustration at the slow pace of change within the shipping industry, and the EU has threatened to make their Emission Trading System more stringent and in line with the MEPC proposals. Environmental groups within the US back their government’s proposals that seek to reduce ship emissions by improving efficiency in order to meet targets within designated time frames. Oceana, one such group, said recently that “a levy on shipping fuel and the participation of the sector in an emissions trading system were potentially effective ways of reducing emissions”. (The ‘levy’ funds to be used for adaptation to climate change in developing countries).

In an indictment of the industry, BBC's veteran Environment Analyst Roger Harrabin, after a quarter of a century of reporting on the environment, gives the example of Tributyltin (TBT), an anti fouling compound commonly in use until recently. He says that, fully twenty four years ago, TBT was causing “female dog whelks to grow penises”. Even after the IMO agreed with scientists on TBT findings, its anti fouling convention “drifted in the Doldrums” and was only ratified in 2008, fully 23 years later. “It doesn't fill you with confidence about the industry's level of concern for the environment in which it makes its money”, he says.

Lockley from the WWF puts the problem in perspective. "The IMO has got the technical expertise," he says. "But this is a bigger political issue and we need to see some movement in Copenhagen if it's going to progress."