Shipping faces storm over fuel emissions

In 1609, the Dutch lawyer Hugo Grotius wrote Mare Liberum (Freedom of the Seas), arguing that all nations should be free to use the seas for trade. Since then, maritime commerce has been built on minimal state interference in maritime affairs.

As a result, maritime transport – although it generates nearly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions – has been, like aviation, kept outside of Paris Climat’s commitment to maintain global warming. at 2 ° C and ideally at 1.5 ° C.

However, some lawyers argue that it shouldn’t have been. And, today, Grotius’ position hangs in the balance, as governments seek ways to get the shipping industry to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Maritime Organization is the United Nations body mandated to regulate maritime transport and is responsible for forging an agreement between 178 member states. In 2018, he pledged that the sector would cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. But this ambition has been castigated by the UN secretary general. António Guterres last month to fall well short of Paris targets.

The controversy reflects how difficult maritime transport – from cruise ships and tankers to fishing trawlers – is to decarbonize as the sector is the basis of the economic prosperity of many countries. Additionally, cleaner marine fuels such as green ammonia, hydrogen, and methanol are not widely available.

Optimists hope that COP26 can be used to give the IMO a boost to move faster. Simon Bergulf, director of regulatory affairs at Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, hopes shipping will be discussed during the event’s World Leaders Summit Day. “The absolute best result would be a very clear signal from all nations that shipping needs to be addressed,” he said.

Clean ambition: alternative marine fuels such as hydrogen are not yet available on a large scale © Alessia Pierdomenico / Bloomberg

The IMO must decide by 2023 whether it will step up its ambition on climate change. But the right signals to the COP could push forward a decision for the industry to set a target of net zero by 2050.

Others believe that the role of COP26 in putting pressure on the maritime transport sector has already been a success. The International Chamber of Shipping, the industry lobby group, in October signaled its support for net zero by 2050. Last month, nine major international companies, including Amazon, pledged to ship their goods in using only zero-emission transport by 2040.

“It wouldn’t have happened without the COP; it focuses the mind, ”says Johannah Christensen, Managing Director of the Global Maritime Forum.

Yet others in the industry are less optimistic, given that shipping is low on the political agendas of many states.

“The political importance of shipping is very, very low,” says Tristan Smith, associate professor at UCL Energy Institute in London. “It’s so difficult to raise it because, in order to get a high level political understanding of the discussion at IMO, you have to go through the weeds.”

The most difficult regulatory issues in shipping center around proposals for market-based measures such as carbon taxes, which put a price on pollution and are seen by many as necessary to make new alternative fuels competitive. The controversy is: who gets the money raised and what can they do with it?

A growing pool of industry insiders are more bullish on less controversial measures. These include mandates to increase the use of alternative fuels and reduce fossil fuels, and the UK government’s Clydebank declaration to establish green sea corridors.

But Aoife O’Leary, chief executive of the campaign group Opportunity Green, argues that these mechanisms do not have the virtue of a global carbon tax: a sum of money can compensate developing countries for the blow to their countries. savings through more expensive shipping.

As questions persist over the IMO’s ability to build consensus, concern is felt over the EU’s plans to expand its emissions trading system to international maritime transport.

This has put the trade bloc to one side of a potential battle over who has the right to demand emissions cuts and reshape global trade flows. China, India, Bangladesh and Panama made a dazzling submission to the IMO last month, directed against the EU’s regulatory campaign without mentioning it, calling it “unjust and unfair” and ” market-oriented operating mechanism “.

Jan Dieleman, president of Cargill’s shipping business, says carbon tax fragmentation is inevitable: “We’re going to see more local programs. It’s a pain worth going to.

Others believe the fallout will be long lasting. Paddy Rodgers, director of the Royal Museums of Greenwich and former managing director of Euronav, a Belgian oil group, says: “What we’re going to end up with is a rupture and a demondibalised response. Regardless of the scope and form of future regulations, Rodgers adds that the shipping industry denies the consequences of climate change action. “We are not tinkering here, we have to change the way we live to survive. . . Shipping whistles in the dark, thinking that globalization will stay. “

Comments are closed.