Much more ambition needed to clean up shipping

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

People watch as the MSC Anna, one of world's largest container ships, and the biggest cargo ship to ever enter San Francisco Bay. [Photo: EPA-EFE/JOHN G. MABANGLO]

International Maritime Organisation plans and ambitions on cutting greenhouse gas emissions fall well short of what is needed, explain MEPs Jutta Paulus, Jytte Guteland and Catherine Chabaud.

Jutta Paulus (Greens/EFA), Jytte Guteland (S&D) and Catherine Chabaud (Renew) are members of the European Parliament.

Three weeks ago, a working group at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) proposed measures to tackle greenhouse gas emissions which fall short even of the IMO’s own GHG Strategy, and are miles away from the European Union’s climate objectives.

The IMO initially aimed to reduce emissions before 2023, peak emissions as soon as possible, and to set ship CO2 emissions on a pathway consistent with the Paris Climate Agreement goals.

It now seems the IMO is going back on these goals. None of them will be met if the proposed measures would be adopted. We are concerned that the IMO is navigating in murky waters.

It is high time for change. Starting the 16 of November, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is coming together for five days to exchange on these proposed measures and adopt them.

EU leadership is crucial in this process. It is therefore disconcerting that the Union is entering these negotiations without a common position, due to half-heartedness and slowness in the Council.

The European Parliament, on the other hand, has adopted ambitious measures in the MRV Shipping Regulation, which we hope will influence the discussions in the MEPC.

Europe is stepping up its climate efforts. One year ago, Commission President Ursula von der Leyen presented the European Green Deal and the Parliament declared a climate emergency.

Following these policies, the EU is now raising its emission reduction target for 2030, with Parliament calling for 60%. When all of society transitions towards climate-neutrality, also maritime transport must do its part.

This September, the Parliament adopted several far-reaching measures, aiming for the shipping sector to pay its fair share in environmental and climate protection. Indeed, decarbonised solutions such as alternative fuels or wind propulsion are emerging and need to be supported.

With regard to the Green Deal, the amending of the EU’s MRV Shipping Regulation is a crucial test for Europe’s sincerity and commitment to climate action, and represent with the Recovery Plan great opportunities, to enable the EU to take the leadership in the construction, renovation and dismantlement of eco-designed and green ships.

Throwing these European ambitions over board at IMO level, would deliver a devastating blow to Europe’s credibility, its climate diplomacy, and most of all to climate action itself.

We are talking about one of the world’s largest emitters. The maritime transport sector emitted globally around 1076 Mt CO2 equivalent in 2018, which correlates to about 2.9 % of global GHG emissions.

Between 2012 and 2018 alone, these emissions increased by 9.6%, including a sharp increase of methane emissions due to the surge of ships using liquefied natural gas.

International maritime transport now generates more GHG emissions than any single EU country. If the shipping sector were a country, it would place sixth on the list of worldwide emitters.

According to the latest IPCC report, there is only a 66% chance of staying below 1.5°C

if future GHG emissions are limited to a 420Gt CO2 equivalent, or 10 years of current emissions.

And, there is only a 50% chance of staying below 1.5 °C if future emissions are limited to 580 Gt CO2eq or 14 years of current emissions.

The IMO estimates that emissions caused by ships worldwide will increase by 90 to 130% between 2008 and 2050. For ships calling at EEA ports, the EU Commission is expecting an increase of 86% compared to 1990.

Hardly any other industrial or transport sector shows such high emission increases. At the same time, maritime transport is the only sector in the EU that is not subject to any emission reduction target.

The Parliament is demanding emission cuts for shipping. Its position for a revision of the Regulation on the monitoring, reporting and verification of carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport ((EU) 2015/757) was adopted by large majority in September.

What started as a formal adjustment to align EU and IMO measures on emission counting and reporting became the most ambitious approach to decarbonising international shipping. Our demands will significantly pave the way for more climate ambition and will help to reach climate neutrality.

For the new MRV Shipping Regulation, the Parliament is calling for the adoption of an efficiency target of 40% by 2030. This target would oblige shipping companies to linearly reduce the annual CO2 emissions per transport work by at least 40% until 2030.

The current regulation provided us with invaluable and comprehensive data for 2018 and 2019, making these years a perfect baseline for concrete measures. By implementing this measure, the EU would cut its total GHG emissions by nearly 1.5%, taking an important step towards reaching the improved climate target for 2030.

Moreover, we aim to include maritime emissions into the EU’s Emission Trading System, EU ETS, by 2022. An Ocean Fund will be established using half of the maritime ETS revenues and will finance R&D and support investments in the decarbonisation of the sector.

20% of the Ocean Fund will contribute to the protection, restoration and better management of marine ecosystems impacted by global warming. The remaining half of the maritime ETS revenues would be used to tackle climate change within the EU.

As CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas harming our climate, we also call on measures to reduce further greenhouse gases such as methane.

The existential threat posed by climate change requires immediate action and the willingness for real change. An ambitious and binding MRV Shipping Regulation will be a necessary step to ensure the European Union’s global leadership in climate action.

Hence, matters lie in the hands of the Council to agree on an equivalently ambitious mandate to include the maritime transport sector in the Union’s commitment to reduce GHG emissions. We especially expect ambitious climate policy action from self-proclaimed climate pioneer, Germany.

We expect the German Presidency to start negotiations with Parliament and Commission without any further delay and to lead them to a good result.

To continue its climate leadership, Member States must do their utmost to reach ambitious measures in this week’s MECP meeting at the IMO. The European Union should take advantage of its climate leadership and convince the IMO to seize being a climate laggard and start taking global responsibility.

There is no time to waste. We must fulfil the Paris climate goals together.

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