IMO MEPC Resolves to Discuss Carbon Policy for Two More Years

shipping emission
Karl Allen Lugmayer / Pixabay / public domain

Published Nov 26, 2021 1:57 PM by The Maritime Executive

The IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee has completed its 77th meeting, and its member states have pledged to discuss decarbonization measures further in 2022-3.

A proposed $2 per tonne bunker fee to pay for research on low-carbon propulsion was not approved, and a proposal to increase IMO's decarbonization ambition from 50 percent to 100 percent by 2050 did not gain enough support.

"It’s almost as if COP 26 never happened," said Guy Platten, the secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, the author and sponsor of the research-fund proposal. "Governments can’t keep kicking the can down the road; every delay moves us further away from reaching pressing climate goals. We will continue to work with governments to agree to the suite of measures which the industry has proposed, including the $5 billion R&D fund as an immediate step."

"To spend two years thinking about revising a strategy – is this incredibly tiny step a valid response to the climate crisis? We are not in climate denial but we are in climate delay and that is dangerous," said Lucy Gilliam, shipping policy officer at NGO Seas at Risk. 

The initial $2 fee is not intended to create a financial incentive for a shift to low-carbon fuels; rather, it would underwrite industry-backed studies to solve technical issues. If enacted by a future MEPC meeting, it would be the first mandatory, global carbon fee of any kind.

However groundbreaking it may be, some climate advocates dismiss the plan as a messaging exercise. A tax-and-subsidy system to make today's expensive green fuels more competitive could require a bunker fee in the range of $450-900 per tonne, according to decarbonization proponents and analysts - far more than $2. (ICS has also proposed a future carbon levy to follow.)

"NGOs were against [the $2 fee] anyway, but even its insignificant ambition was too much for the IMO," said Faig Abbasov, shipping coordinator at the advocacy organization Transport & Environment. 

Several states have been identified as key backers for the continuity of current carbon policy at MEPC 77, including China, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia.

The MEPC meeting comes as the European Union is formulating a plan to incorporate shipping's carbon into its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), including international shipping to and from EU ports. The measure has support from the European Community Shipowners Associations (ECSA), but it has long been opposed by international industry associations, which have worked to retain control of shipping emissions at IMO.