EU agrees on law to make ships measure CO2 emissions

Beluga Recognition [Gottwald Cranes/Wikimedia]

For the first time, the shipping sector will have to monitor its carbon emissions under a law agreed upon by the European Union Wednesday (26 November), intended as a step towards tackling a growing source of pollutants linked to climate change.

International shipping accounts for around 3 percent of the world’s emissions of carbon dioxide, a share which could increase to 18 percent by 2050 if regulation is not in place, according to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The law stops short of including shipping in the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS), the bloc’s flagship tool for cutting pollution, but EU officials said it was a step in that direction.

Gian Luca Galletti, environment minister for Italy, current holder of the EU presidency, said the agreement had “a great political value as well as technical”.

>> Read: ‘Flawed’ Commission proposal on ship emissions gains ground in Parliament

It introduces a mechanism for monitoring, reporting and checking shipping emissions as a follow-up to an October EU agreement on new targets to tackle climate change and a precursor to U.N. efforts to seal a global pact in 2015.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, diplomats said four nations – Greece, Cyprus, Malta and Poland – had voted against the law, but that had not been enough to block it. The measure was expected to be signed into law, pending formal publication over the coming months.

Years of debate in the IMO and at the UN have failed to come up with a way of including shipping emissions in mandatory pollution curbs.

>> Read: Stricter shipping emission controls could save industry €9 million: study

Environmental campaigners say the new EU law is weak because it only measures emissions, although they still welcomed it as progress towards tougher steps.

Shippers, such as Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S , the group behind the world’s biggest container shipping operator, said the new law was a pragmatic solution.

The law has a long lead time as ship-owners will only have to monitor emissions from 1 January, 2018, and only from ships of more than 5,000 gross tons.

In the event an international deal is reached to reduce shipping emissions, the European Commission, the EU executive, will have to review the EU law.

The European Commission proposed a regulation in June 2013 which will require owners of large ships using EU ports to monitor and report the ships' annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

Emissions from the international maritime transport sector today account for 3% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 4% of EU GHG emissions. Without action they are expected to increase significantly in the future, in line with expected increases in trade volumes between all continents.

Such growth would undermine efforts being undertaken in other sectors to reduce the EU's overall GHG emissions.

  • 1 Jan. 2018: ship owners to start monitoring emissions from ships of more than 5,000 gross tons.

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