MEPC 77 starts, partially virtual, partially face-to-face

The International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Environmental Protection Committee 77th meeting (MEPC77) began this week on November 22nd.

A number of delegates were physically at IMO’s headquarters in London on the south bank of the River Thames. MEPC77 comes two weeks after the UN COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, where greater attention than usual was focused on the behaviour of shipowners when it came to their sector’s decarbonization pathway.

The IMO’s “Initial Strategy” on greenhouse gases (GHG), which was agreed in 2018, mandated that the industry reach 50% GHG emissions by 2050 – a target that was the product of much compromise between what might be considered two opposing sets of interests in global shipping.

At the virtual MEPC meeting in June the delegates agreed, after some heated debate, on shorter-term targets with the year 2030 coming into play. But any change in the “Initial Strategy” was kicked firmly down the road to 2023.

The rating system for vessel carbon intensity (the A to E ratings for carbon intensity based on vessel operation), as well as the EEXI scheme (which deals with actual vessel design) will come into effect at the beginning of 2023. Both are provisions within the MARPOL international convention.

As COP26 approached there were some strong demands from major players, including shipowners directly impacted by IMO regulations and, significantly for shipowners, big players on the cargo side, that the IMO accelerate its tighter targets for shipping’s emission reductions.

On Monday this week the various delegations that spoke offered divergent, and incompatible, views on the path towards the tighter targets. A target of “Net Zero by 2050” was supported by most of the views expressed.

The IMO stated, with the normal prolix of such statements from global organizations, that the MEPC was “invited to consider proposals related the 2050 level of ambition and the revision of the Initial IMO GHG Strategy;”

That was agenda item number 7 on a lengthy list of objectives for the MEPC77 meeting.

While what might be considered a majority of players (even if only in terms of tonnage and market capitalization) said that they wanted to accelerate and give greater commitment to the industry’s decarbonization intentions, there was no unanimity on timing.

The US said that |we must cut global CO2 emissions by 45% by 2030, relative to the 2010 levels, and reach Net Zero by 2050″.

The US delegate affirmed support for a wordy resolution (from Island States in the Pacific Ocean) that “in order to signal clearly to the shipping industry that GHG emissions should reach zero by no later than 2050 and that effective pathways are being developed, the Committee is invited to adopt at this session a clear, overarching statement, in the form a resolution, that the Organization is committed to GHG emissions from international maritime transport being reduced to zero by at least 2050. In this regard, the Committee is invited to consider with a view to adoption the draft MEPC resolution set out in the annex.”

Meanwhile, the Greek delegation, which has as its constituency a larger number of smaller companies in the shipowner sector, wanted a more deliberate and carefully delineated pathway. It voiced support for alignment with the Paris Accord, but said that “we feel that more time and attention should be devoted to getting to climate-neutral shipping by 2050 feasibly and realistically. In this respect, [the delegation] would like to highlight that the transition to sustainable low and zero emission fuels is a highly complex issue which can only be resolved with targeted research and development and deployment of these fuels. On this issue, this delegation believes that the priority at this MEPC should be given to the discussion of mid and long-term measures to insure that emission reductions will be achieved. Having said that, at this stage, we feel reluctant to support the resolution….”

Thailand also wanted to move more slowly. “We are of the view that the deliberations at the IMO should take into account the outcomes of other fora, especially of the COP 26…We agree that the IMO’s Initial Strategy should be reviewed, but it should be based on scientific research and evidence so that we can have a practicable standard.”

As was the case at the June MEPC meeting, and at COP26, the world seems split in two on the matter, with the developed world more committed to fast action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while the developing world asks why the countries that achieved much of their economic dominance through the burning of “dirty” fuels in the past should have the right to tell developing nations that they have to stop using dirty fuels now, to make up for the developed world’s past mistakes.