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Governments pursue new shipping emissions measures

The International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee meets in mid-May. While much of the focus will be on the sulphur cap, some governments are keen to build on the historic greenhouse gas emissions strategy that the IMO forged a year ago. Perhaps unsurprisingly, owners and operators are under the spotlight

Japan, France, Denmark, Germany and Spain are among those calling for owners to cut emissions swiftly

LARGE shipping nations and European economies are urging shipowners to hasten operational energy efficiency as a precursor to greenhouse gas goals.

Japan, France, Denmark, Germany and Spain have all taken the mantle with new proposals to the IMO’s next high-level environmental meeting happening in May, calling for measures to attain the industry’s short-term self-imposed emissions goals.

Governments must meet the commitment they made last year to slash shipping’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared with 2008.

But more immediately, shipping needs to cut its average carbon emissions per transport work, a term that is as vague as it sounds, by at least 40% by 2030 compared with 2008.

Vessels are already regulated by the energy efficiency design index, which prescribes the minimum design efficiency improvements of new ships.

Countries are now keen on expanding the operational energy efficiency aspect to help meet 40% reduction rate.

To fast track the process, France has suggested implementing speed regulation until 2023 followed by a “goal-based approach” whereby the outcome, not the measure, defines the policy.

Fellow EU countries Denmark, Germany and Spain are keen on the second part of this proposal, with a call for energy efficiency targets, without, however, prescribed ways to meeting them.

The three countries want shipowners to document that they are meeting specific annual or three-yearly energy efficiency targets.

“It will be up to the shipowners to decide on how to achieve the requirement by either retrofitting the ships to be more energy efficient, or adopting fuel-efficient operations, innovative solutions or by speed reduction, for example by shaft power limitation,” their proposal suggests.

GHG policy is politically charged and underpinned by financial considerations. 

There is a strong demand by developing nations and least developed countries, as well as small island developing states, that the impact of any measures on their economies is carefully considered before they are adopted.

The IMO has agreed to avoid burdening these countries as it tries to implement the initial strategy. Every proposed measure will be under scrutiny especially regarding this issue.

But Denmark, Germany and Spain appear confident their proposed measure will not be harmful.

“The proposed measure would apply to all ships on all flags. Given it is aimed at energy efficiency and leaves shipowners with the choice of how to reach the measure, it is difficult to see how SIDS and LDCs would be disproportionally impacted. This would also depend on the current distribution of more efficient ships,” they said.

Instead, they believe the measure will generate cost-efficient investments that will have a quick payback period for shipowners.

Japan is also suggesting technical measures on existing ships that enable shipowners to manipulate what they call “enforceable” factors to energy efficiency.

Potential tools that shipowners could deploy induces hull design, and even limits to the maximum engine power through a mechanical fuel index sealing system.

But the country is weary of prescriptive measures that have to do with commercial aspects of operations and explicitly warned against speed limits as it believes the industry will face difficulties in accommodating different demands within the industry.

“Furthermore, it is legally and technically quite difficult to continuously monitor and regulate the business activity of a ship. Therefore, some flexibility is essential in any measures on business activities. In this context, utilisation of the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan or other incentive measures could be a more practical way to address business activities,” it said.

Energy efficiency measures may appear to be popular among influential countries, but the proposals will not go without deliberation.

China warned in its own submission that developing operational energy efficiency measures is complicated and wants a serious of steps taken rolling out measures, such as create an operational energy efficiency indicator and evaluate the carbon intensity of the whole shipping industry and of individual shipping segments.

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