IMO member states agree on carbon targets, but internal differences remain

The difficulties inherent in trying to reconcile the competing interests of different countries when you are a global organization was evidenced once again last week when the International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed on Friday October 23rd, after a week-long online meeting of the intersessional working Group on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions, to make legally binding the industry’s intention to reduce the carbon intensity of shipping by 40%, compared with 2008 levels, over the next 10 years. Previously the intention had been an aspiration rather than a legal commitment.

However, member states remain divided on the carbon emissions debate, with a sizeable minority demanding tougher targets. Up to 30 nations were reported to have threatened to walk away from the meeting, feeling that the draft text was insipid and lacked ambition.

Critics noted that the text under discussion contained no carbon intensity target, and reduced the stringency of the required Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) for many ship types.

Not only would the “legal undertaking” not enforce a reduction of shipping emissions this decade, it would not even cap them. It was observed by several parties that non-compliant ships would be able to continue underperforming for three consecutive years before they even have to file a plan to make improvements, and could easily ‘game’ the system indefinitely by ensuring one compliant year every three years.

It was reported that all clauses that would create consequences for non-compliance  had been removed.

The draft text that was finally hammered out will be forwarded to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which is scheduled to meet online from November 16th to 20th.

Several NGOs maintain that the proposal would curb just 0.8% -1.6% of GHG emissions from a business-as-usual growth pathway by 2030. A “business as usual” pathway would be 15% above the industry’s 2008 baseline.

Four NGOs – the WWF, Transport & Environment, Pacific Environment and Seas at Risk – issued a joint statement aserting that the so-called J/5 text violated the initial IMO GHG Strategy in three ways. “It will fail to reduce emissions before 2023, will not peak emissions as soon as possible, and will not set ship CO2 emissions on a pathway consistent with the Paris Agreement goals,” the NGOs said