Rhein on Energy and Climate

Maritime transport accounts for about three per cent of global C02 emissions, as much as air transport. In the absence of an effective international jurisdiction both transport modes have so far escaped an effective curb of their emissions. This situation will change after a decision taken by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) July 15th 2011.

The IMO decision provides mandatory rules for higher energy efficiency of cargo ships that aim at reducing C02 emission by up to 30 per cent until 2030.

This is an overdue signal to the shipping industry that business as usual will be over. In view of the rapid increase of maritime transport expected for the coming decades it has become imperative to curb its C02 emissions.

New ships need improved designs of the hull, propellers and engines; owners of existing ships will need to introduce programmes for enhancing energy efficiency, e.g. reducing the speed.

For the first time, a specialised UN agency makes use of technical standards as an instrument for curbing green house gas emissions, following the example that the EU and the USA are practising for cars.

However welcome the consensus reached among the 200-odd member states last July, it is no more than a tiny beginning of much more dramatic action that will be necessary to effectively reduce C02 emissions from shipping. The hoped for 30 per cent increase of fuel efficiency until 2030 will be more than neutralised by a doubling of maritime transport. The measures so far decided will therefore only slow down the further increase of C02 emissions but not reduce them, which is necessary to cut global C02 emissions by at least 50 per cent until mid-century.

Additional short-term action should target speed and taxation of shipping fuel.

  • OMI should decree speed limits for all cargo ships regardless of size or type of ship. Indeed, C02 emissions are very sensitive to speed: reducing the speed by 10 per cent cuts fuel consumption and C02 emissions by 35 per cent! This measure would therefore have a substantial and immediate impact on C02 emissions. It would be easy to monitor via the log- books, not distort competition and force ship engine designers to focus their work on fuel efficiency rather than speed.

Moreover, and may be most important from a profound cultural perspective, it would be a step towards the necessary “slowing down” all human activities !

  • OMI should also persuade its member governments of the need to tax shipping fuel as an incentive for raising fuel efficiency and helping finance the UN climate fund to be established in the next few years. There is, indeed, no reason for exempting maritime transport from paying appropriate compensation for the damage they do to the global climate.

For both suggestions, which might become effective as soon as 2015, it will be very hard to obtain the necessary consensus within the OMI. The EU, winch has already signalled its preparedness to go further, will have to push for them. To that end the Commission should submit appropriate proposals.

Hopefully the ICAO will find inspiration from the IMO approach for tackling air craft emissions.

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