FEATURE: Mixed Reactions to IMO's Latest GHG Study

by Jack Jordan, Managing Editor, Ship & Bunker
Wednesday August 12, 2020

The publication of the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) fourth greenhouse gas (GHG) study has provoked mixed reactions from representatives of the shipping industry and the organisations monitoring it, with some expressing satisfaction with the progress made so far and others raising the alarm.

The report, providing an update on the absolute levels of GHG emissions from shipping up to 2018 as well as projections out to 2050, showed that emissions have fallen since 2008 -- the baseline year from which the IMO 2050 target of halving shipping's GHG output is derived.

For Lars Robert Pedersen, deputy secretary general of shipping industry group BIMCO, this is welcome news.

"This study shows that it is possible to reach the 2050 ambition," Pedersen said last week.

"This study can be used to tell us what we actually need to do, and how much we need to do, to reach the ambition level of the IMO-strategy."

Uncertain COVID-19 Effect

In its response to the study BIMCO argued that its projections for future demand for seaborne freight were likely to be "at the higher end of the spectrum," as the economic effects of this year's pandemic on future growth had not been taken into account.

The study project emissions increasing from about 90% of 2008's levels in 2018 to 90-130% by 2050. It argues that "the impact of COVID-19 is likely to be smaller than the uncertainty range of the presented scenarios."

Environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E) said the European Union would need to push ahead with its own regulation plans for marine GHG emissions if the decarbonisation agenda is to be kept on track.

"Shipping's carbon pollution has grown at an alarming rate and could rise by half by 2050 if real action is not taken," Faig Abbasov, shipping programme manager at T&E, said in a statement on the organisation's website last week.

"Now is the time for the EU to push ahead with its plan for emissions trading for shipping and also quickly adopt the CO2 standards the European Parliament has called for.

"Standards will drive the uptake of the hydrogen and ammonia that European shipping needs to decarbonise."

The EU plans to include shipping within its emissions trading system, but the timetable for when that will finally happen has yet to be set in stone.

Tough Short-Term Measures Needed for Paris Compliance

Dr Tristan Smith of UCL's University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS), which contributed to the report, said the targets for policy makers in this area remain clear in the run-up to the 2023 review of the IMO's initial strategy.

"There is nothing in the initial strategy that is unambiguous, and that we need to wait until 2023 to debate; the instruction or commitment that governments made seems rather clear," he told Ship & Bunker by email.

"When IMO debates short term measures and hopefully agrees on one or more to be adopted shortly, then it is implementing a policy mechanism to deliver on these agreed ambitions.

"The nature of the policy measure(s) chosen must be a policy mechanism that is capable of placing international shipping on a pathway of CO2 emissions reductions consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals, including the 1.5 degree temperature goal, which IPCC have indicated requires that across all sectors we must approximately halve CO2 between 2020 and 2030."

Shipping Industry Bodies Want R&D Fund

Shipping body the ICS argued the report shows the need for its proposal to fund research and development work into low carbon fuels should be implemented.

The organisation, along BIMCO and other shipping industry representatives, has suggested a $2/mt levy could be imposed on bunker fuel sales to build a $5 billion fund to research GHG reduction technology for shipping.

"This has the potential to develop the vital technology that will allow us to reach our zero-emission future," Guy Platten, secretary general of the ICS, said last week.

"The R&D fund will pave the way for vital technological advancements, including the development of zero-carbon fuels and ships.

"It's clear that if we are to achieve a 50% total cut in CO2 by 2050 efficiency gains will not be enough."

LNG Under Fire

The report also brought some implicit criticism for the LNG bunkering industry, noting a 151% increase in methane emissions over the period studied and calling not regulating methane slip "a major loophole and shortcoming in current policy."

LNG bunkering group SEA-LNG said it would study the report further, but suggested that it might take issue with its methodology for assessing the environmental impact of methane emissions.

"SEA-LNG continues to review [the study] with other associations and will comment more completely when our analysis is finalised," a spokesman for the organisation told Ship & Bunker by email Wednesday.

"We are keen to understand the technical assumptions upon which the study is based.

"We note that the definitive lifecycle GHG emissions study conducted by thinkstep (now Sphera) was not referenced. Yet the thinkstep report shows that modern LNG fuelled vessels can reduce overall GHG emissions by up to 21% on a Well-to-Wake basis, and 28% on a Tank-to-Wake basis compared with current oil-based marine fuels.

"Today, and for the foreseeable future, LNG is the only viable fuel for deep-sea ocean shipping which improves both air quality and GHG performance."