The 77th session of IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee took place virtually, 22-26 November 2021, bringing the hot issue of GHG emissions from ships again to the forefront. The MEPC 77 agreed to revise the Initial IMO Strategy of 2018 in a bid to speed up decarbonization efforts, considered as a successful outcome by IMO, but this revision will not be adopted earlier than 2023, which has been seen as a “missed opportunity” by global shipping stakeholders.
he efforts came after the global community recognized the urgency of accelerating ambition for climate change. The latest IPCC report in August showed many climate changes observed on Earth are unprecedented in thousands of years, and some of the changes already set in motion—such as continued sea level rise—are irreversible over hundreds to thousands of years. These alarming findings led to the adoption, during the latest COP 26 in November, of Glasgow Climate Pact, a global agreement to speed up action to reduce emissions.
Recognizing the need to strengthen the ambition on the fight against GHG emissions, the IMO agreed to initiate the revision of the GHG emissions target under the Initial IMO Strategy, with a view for adoption by 2023, in MEPC 80. The Committee also failed to support the resolution for zero shipping emissions by 2050, proposed by the Marshall and Solomon Islands at the recent COP 26. The results were seen as inadequate, especially after the COP 26 highlighted that time is running out.
“We are disappointed that the words and commitments made by governments at COP26 have not yet been translated into action. This week’s meetings have missed the opportunity to take forward a range of GHG reduction measures which would accelerate the development of zero emissions ships that are urgently needed at scale to decarbonize our sector. It’s almost as if COP 26 never happened,’’said ICS Secretary General, Guy Platten.
No decision on 5-billion-dollar R&D fund
In addition, MEPC 77 discussed several proposals for further mid-term GHG reduction measures that attracted media attention earlier in 2021, such as market-based measures or an International Maritime Research and Development Board, but it did not reach any decision and referred the proposals and relevant documents, including associated impact assessments, to the next sessions of Inter-Sessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG-GHG) for further assessment. The fund foresees a small charge on fuel to raise money for R&D into cleaner shipping. If the IMO Maritime Research Fund is not taken forward soon, commented ICS, it would be “signal to the world, following COP 26, that IMO is no longer truly serious about maintaining its leadership on GHG issues and that others may then move in to fill the vacuum.”
Tackling black carbon in the Arctic
Continuing a long debate on reducing black carbon emissions from ships in Arctic, MEPC 77 adopted a resolution proposed by Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Solomon Islands, Sweden, UK, and US, urging Member States and ship operators to voluntarily use distillate or other cleaner alternative fuels or methods of propulsion when operating in or near the Arctic. Notably, the level of ambition in the initial proposal was higher, but a small group of countries, including Russia, China, India, Japan, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Angola, opposed to the resolution, which resulted in a watered-down version. Although there was a “disappointing lack of support from IMO member states”, the move sends a strong message on the necessity of reducing black carbon emissions in such fragile environments, noted Dr. Sian Prior, Lead Advisor to the Clean Arctic Alliance, a non-for-profit coalition dedicated on reducing black carbon emissions in Arctic.
Focus on carbon intensity reduction
MEPC 76 last June adopted a short-term annual ship CO2 intensity reduction target aimed at meeting the target set in the Initial GHG Strategy – to reduce carbon intensity of all ships by 40% by 2030, compared to 2008. These will be mandatory measures under MARPOL Annex VI in November 2022 by requiring all ships to calculate their Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and to establish their annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) and CII rating. MEPC 77 established a Correspondence Group on Carbon Intensity Reduction, to finalize and update guidelines.
New pledges for GHG TC Trust Fund
Governments made new pledges to support IMO in the implementation of the Initial GHG Strategy in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), through the IMO GHG TC Trust Fund. The GHG TC Trust Fund, agreed on MEPC 74, is a voluntary multi-donor trust fund intended to act as a dedicated source of financial support for technical cooperation and capacity building to support implementation of the Initial IMO Strategy.
Another main outcome of MEPC 77 was the adoption of a strategy to address marine plastic litter from ships. This strategy sets out the ambitions to reduce marine plastic litter generated from, and retrieved by, fishing vessels; reduce shipping’s contribution to marine plastic litter; and improve the effectiveness of port reception and facilities and treatment in reducing marine plastic litter. The Committee also revised guidelines for scrubbers and agreed the scope of work on discharge water of EGCS; while it also considered matters related to the BWM Convention.
Strengthening the ambition of the Initial IMO GHG Strategy during its revision will be crucial. Our collective actions must show our dedication to contribute towards the global issue, climate change
…commented the IMO Sec-Gen, wrapping up MEPC 77
The way forward
Although there was a sense of progress in terms of a clear recognition of the emissions issue, both from member states and IMO itself, the overall MEPC 77 outcome was seen as mediocre, leaving the future of maritime decarbonization unclear, at a time when EU is exploring its own rules for regulating emissions domestically while big companies are also making pledges of their own to decarbonize.