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IMO outcome – world’s giant containerships get long overdue upgrade

Monday, 20 May 2019 | 00:00

The IMO tightened energy efficiency targets for new vessels across seven ship types in total, as a long-term climate measure (as new ships replace old ones, the CO2-saving effect increases each year).

The accelerated targets for containers, general cargo ships, hybrid diesel-electric cruise ships, and LPG and LNG carriers cover about 30% of ships and about 40% of CO2 emitted from ships subject to energy efficiency regulations

This measure could reduce CO2 emissions by about 750 million tonnes of CO2 cumulatively from 2022 to 2050 according to an analysis by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT). That’s about 2% of all emissions from international shipping over that time period and about one year’s worth of emissions in 2015.

IMO will consider additional requirements for new ships after 2025 plus efficiency requirements for in-use vessels at its next meeting. The improved standards were made within the framework of Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) (see separate explainer document for details).

However, the governments present did not do enough to take concrete actions to cut emissions from the industry – meaning we still don’t know how shipping will reach its targets laid out in its plan. This is despite concrete proposals from a range of countries and vocal pressure from the community for the industry to step up (including from Extinction Rebellion and school children from across the UK.)


Countries who blocked further action in general include Saudi Arabia, US, Brazil, and Cook Islands. On speed reduction in particular, opposition came from Chile and Peru.

“IMO’s decision to move up and tighten energy efficiency targets for some new ships is a modest but necessary step to combat climate change. Next, IMO will consider energy efficiency measures for existing ships to reduce emissions in the near-term.” Dan Rutherford, ICCT’s marine program director.

“IMO’s move shows that further efficiency improvements are still possible for fossil fueled ships. Future standards should promote new technologies like wind assist and eventually zero emission fuels like hydrogen and electricity.” Bryan Comer, senior researcher in ICCT’s marine program

However other NGOs argue that the agreed reduction rate from 2022, while bringing an end to the least efficient ships being built, is already being beaten by the most efficient ships built currently, and that much deeper reduction targets could have been set.

“Following four years of negotiations and countless meetings, IMO eventually admitted what was already evident for the scientific and environmental community: that it is not prepared to adopt rules that encourage technological innovation with EEDI regulation. IMO’s comfort zone is rather to timidly follow what the market has already delivered without regulation, and then take credit for it”. Faig Abbasov, Shipping Policy Manager at Transport & Environment

“What a shame that IMO continues to treat the EEDI as a way of describing what is already happening rather than mapping out a future pathway to decarbonisation.” John Maggs, Seas at Risk.

“The IMO this week recognized the need to address the climate impacts of shipping fuels — but it missed an opportunity by not focusing on policies that will drive zero-emissions fuels and vessels. At the next set of talks in November, countries in the IMO need to prioritize policies that drive investment in future-proof sustainable fuel supply chains.”

-Aoife O’Leary, Senior Legal Manager, Environmental Defense Fund

2) Speed reduction taken up for further development as short-term CO2 cutting measure

The context is the landmark Initial Strategy on Greenhouse Gases was agreed by countries at IMO last April, setting goals to peak emissions as soon as possible, reduce shipping’s carbon intensity by at least 40% by 2030, and to cut absolute GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

This week at MEPC, countries were due to discuss Short-Term measures to start achieving these goals.

However no agreement could even be found on which of the 15 candidate measures to discuss first, with Saudi Arabia, Brazil, and the US objecting even to the word “prioritization”.

“Instead of discussing substance, countries discussed process.” said Faig Abassov at Transport and Environment.

Despite very slow progress, speed reduction remains on the table, despite fears by its proponents that it could be removed from the agenda at an early stage. The working group has inserted speed reduction and speed optimisation into one of three key packages to be worked on further at the next GHG working group in November.

“All the short term measures have been forwarded into a work stream,” said Abbasov. “Nothing has been taken off the table. It will be the task of the next session to prioritize the measures that will have the highest impact on shipping emissions.”

The GHG working group published a timetable showing that short-term CO2 cuts could still be achieved before 2023, as required in the Initial Strategy. However delaying actions from the above countries this week have put this deadline at risk.

Although no short-term measures were adopted at this MEPC, significant political shifts are happening around the need for short-term climate action from the sector.

One year ago, only the NGOs in Clean Shipping Coalition supported speed reduction of shipping to cut CO2.

Now the governments of France and Greece submitted official speed reduction proposals, and Malta has supported the idea from the floor.

Greece, the biggest shipowning nation, coming out in support of speed gave a new dimension to talks.

(Just like cars, giant container ships and tankers burn less fuel at slower speeds. Speed limits for ships could cut the sector’s giant emissions by a third. Shipping emits more GHG than all but the top 5 country emitters, almost a gigatonne a year, so getting this peaked and down in the short term would be a big win for the climate.)

Speed reduction of the global shipping industry to cut CO2 would have co-benefits for whales and dolphins of reduced underwater noise, and fewer collisions with ships causing injury and death to whales, helping endangered whale populations recover.

Japan and Denmark have also submitted decent proposals for tougher operational efficiency standards, which would indirectly result in lots of ships slowing down to meet them.

Over 100 shipping CEOs signed a joint letter to governments at IMO calling for global speed limits at sea, ahead of the latest round of talks.

Signatories include:

– the world’s largest listed crude oil tanker company, Euronav

–top 10 Dry Bulk shipping firms: Diana Shipping, Navios Maritime Holdings, Safe Bulkers, Star Bulk

–top 10 LNG shipping firm DYNAGAS

–French industrial giant Louis Dreyfus

–Greek shipping legends like Tsakos Shipping and Trading S.A.

The political context is that the industry is realizing its a fork in the road at IMO, and that either speed limits, or operational efficiency standards will be adopted to achieve the IMO’s short term GHG reduction goals.

“We’ve seen over 100 individual shipping companies united with NGOs in calling for speed reduction, overruling the policy stance of the industry associations,” said Faig Abbasov.

”The shipping industry associations no longer represent the best interests of shipping companies.”

Solomon Islands Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Infrastructure and Development, Jimmy Nuake: [email protected] (one of the most active in fighting for 1.5 degree carbon budget for shipping as survival of his country at stake)

Source: GSCC Network

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