Compromise and Ambition at MEPC 72: What's on the Agenda, What's Not an Option?

Friday April 6, 2018

With IMO's 72nd meeting of its Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 72) set for next week, industry stakeholders this week have been putting forward their respective positions on how Shipping should reduce its emissions inline with the Paris Climate Agreement.

Arguably the most significant item on the agenda is that the MEPC is expected to adopt an initial strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions from ships. Exactly what that might look like has been discussed this week at part of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships. This group is expected to have produced the text of the draft initial strategy and provide a report to MEPC 72.

Ambition and compromise have been the keywords banded around both before and as part of the talks, with seemingly everyone pushing for ambitious measures to be taken. The issue, however, is the apparent gulf between what different stakeholders feel "being ambitious" actually entails.

At one end of the spectrum is the report by the International Transport Forum (ITF) at the OECD suggesting that almost complete decarbonisation is possible by 2035 with currently known technologies. At the other end is a 50% reduction by 2060. In the middle are proposals from certain EU Member States for a 70 to 100% total cut in emissions before 2050.

Reports from this week suggest the debate has been more heated than usual, and while it is unclear what - if anything - has been agreed, on Friday Norway took the time to throw its weight behind the idea of cutting emissions 50% by 2050.

"Emissions should be reduced by 50 percent towards 2050 compared to 2008," Harald Solberg, head of the Norwegian Shipowners' Association, was quoted as saying Friday by Reuters.

"We hope the IMO will agree on these ambitious emission targets. That is the only solution, if not we fear regional solutions, and that will not work."

Saudi Arabia, who as recently as February was still pushing for a delay on IMO2020, is reported to have been among those looking for least severe measures to be taken. But like IMO2020, one thing IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim says should not happen is delaying the adoption of a GHG strategy.

"My message is that you do not wait for the last minute at MEPC to make the compromises and find the solutions," he said in opening remarks at this week's working group.

"I also wish to express a word of caution: postponing the adoption of the Initial Strategy, to a future session of MEPC, should not be an option. We have already approved the roadmap for developing a comprehensive strategy on reducing GHG emissions from ships, and this roadmap includes adoption of an Initial Strategy at next week's Committee meeting."

What this could well mean is the introduction of speed limits on the world's fleet - an id that seems to have received very little opposition, even from green groups. In fact Transport & Environment (T&E) say it's "the only measure on the table that can deliver immediate greenhouse gas savings for the entire fleet."

Also next week, the MEPC is expected to consider for approval at MEPC73 in October draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil.

Also of note to bunker industry players is that the MEPC will consider draft best practice guidance for fuel oil purchasers/users; and for fuel oil providers.

The MEPC will also consider the development of measures to reduce risks of use and carriage of heavy fuel oil as fuel by ships in Arctic waters.

MEPC 72 take place April 9-13, 2018, at IMO Headquarters in London.