From: Andy Soos, ENN
Published April 5, 2010 01:42 PM

Ships at Sea and What is Fair

Ships are responsible for 2.7% of world carbon dioxide emissions. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) estimates that these emissions could increase by 150-250% by the year 2050 in line with the expected continued growth in international seaborne trade. So how does one reduce such emissions since ships are international in nature and there are over a hundred different nations with different rules. How can one be fair and be green?


The IMO has been slow to come up with international rules to curb maritime emissions, and pressure is now growing for them to be addressed within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A meeting of the UN agency's Marine Environment Protection Committee said the new group will study the feasibility of options like bunker fuels and emissions trading before preparing an impact assessment.

Bunker fuel is the cheapest fuel oil sold but potentially one of the more polluting kinds in terms of air emissions.

In addition, the committee decided to postpone finalizing mandatory fuel efficiency standards for ships, concluding that more work remains to be done.

It said it had drafted plans for an Energy Efficiency Design Index for new ships to ensure that new vessel designs are environmentally friendly, as well as for a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan for all ships in operation. But it referred further work on outstanding issues, including ship size, target dates and reduction rate, to a working group that will report back in September 2010.

Local authorities such as the California air board has tried to take independent actions at least for its coastlines. A 2008 measure requires ships traveling within 28 miles of shore to replace heavy fuel oil with lower sulfur fuel oil products. About 2,000 ships call at California ports every year.

But the board is in for a fight from the Pacific Merchant Shipping Association, which represents 60 ocean carriers and terminal operators on the West Coast. The group, which prefers a voluntary approach, blocked in court a previous state attempt to regulate vessel emissions. It also challenges the state's authority beyond its waters, which extend 3 miles from shore.

A ship may travel a thousand miles and go through numerous jurisdictions. It cannot simply change its oil supply or have a different ship design depending on the jurisdiction. There is a simple question here of who is in charge. Failure to resolve this matter will restrict and delay shipping.

"Global issues demand global solutions," said IMO Secretary General Efthimios E. Mitropoulos at the close of a recent meeting, arguing that the world should take heed of lessons learned in last year's UN climate talks in Copenhagen to avoid repeating them in further negotiations set to take place in Cancún at the end of the year.

A major stumbling block on setting global emissions targets for international maritime was how to reconcile the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities of the UNFCCC, which governs the climate negotiations, with that of the equal treatment of ships under the IMO.

These are in direct opposition with one another, as the UNFCCC requires rich countries to bear a higher burden while the maritime sector considers that the cross border nature of its activities would require any bunker fuel taxes to be imposed evenly across the globe to prevent distortion of competitiveness.

A tax on bunker fuel would tend to reduce its consumption but who should pay is the problem.

The European Union wants to set goals and targets to reduce ship emissions. The US rejected any mention of bunkers at Copenhagen in order not to introduce the common but differentiated responsibilities principle to bunker oil discussions. This would have complicated the overall discussions.

The European Union has said that it will act on its own if neither the IMO nor international climate negotiations succeed in curbing emissions from ships.

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