How shipping got its own Paris Agreement – and what that means

by Olaf Merk

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Maritime shipping now also has its “Paris Agreement”. On Friday, 13 April, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its member states agreed on an “Initial GHG Strategy” for shipping. This strategy sets out an absolute target to reduce shipping emission by “at least” 50% by 2050. It also commits the sector to pursue efforts to phase out CO2 emissions in line with the objective of Paris Climate Agreement.

Is this compromise (for that’s what it is) a historic achievement or a collection of weasel words? How did we get here? And what still needs to be done? In my view, the deal struck at IMO is a huge step – for at least three reasons.

First, the IMO’s Initial GHG Strategy is the first big response of shipping to the climate change challenge since the introduction of an energy efficiency measure for ships, the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), in 2012. The EEDI, developed in the wake of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the predecessor of the Paris Agreement, is a binding global regulation. But it has at best a moderate positive impact on shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions,which will materialise only over the long term (given that the EEDI only applies to new ships, while the average life time of ships is more than 25 years).

Looking good

Second, the new agreement makes shipping – seen as a laggard by some – suddenly look better than the aviation industry, the other transport sector that was exempt from the Paris Agreement because its emissions defy national boundaries. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), IMO’s sister body that regulates global aviation, was much faster than the IMO to respond to the Paris Agreement. However, its solution now seems less robust than what the maritime sector is now undertaking. For the moment, aviation has adopted a voluntary offset scheme but avoided to set an absolute emission reduction target as the one just agreed at IMO.

Third, shipping and IMO delegates have come a long way in their approach to combatting climate change. An absolute emission target for shipping was unthinkable a few years ago, and even two weeks ago far from certain.

 

In short, this commitment goes further than anything in the past or in similar sectors. And it surpasses what seemed possible only since very recently. So yes, this was probably the best possible outcome for all those who wanted shipping to align with the Paris temperature goals. Even if the Initial GHG Strategy does not quite achieve that (a 50% cut will not suffice to get shipping on a pathway to the famous 1.5-degree scenario),  it sends a clear signal that the sector needs to decarbonise. This will not be without impact on how ship owners act. It will also drive technological innovation for cleaner shipping. Not least, the IMO agreement is a boost for multilateral solutions; all too rare these days.

So, the agreement on the IMO Initial GHG Strategy provides a good reason to uncork some champagne – for those who need a reason for that.

 

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ITF port and shippping expert Olaf Merk talks about hoe maritime transport can decarbonise

 

 

Litmus test of statesmanship

How did this little miracle happen? A combination of things was at work: A technical debate became politicised. A powerful actor threatened unilateral action. Laggards were effectively shamed. Evidence made an impact.

Politicisation took the form of the Tony de Brum declaration. This text, supported by more than 45 countries, demanded that shipping align itself with the goals of the Paris Agreement. Pushed by French President Emmanuel Macron and Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands, during the One Planet Summit in November 2017 the declaration was a political masterstroke: It made shipping emissions a strategic political priority and a litmus test of statesmanship, rather than the arcane topic for shipping technocrats and corporate lobbyists it had been for so long. Intense cooperation among officials of the most ambitious countries, sailing under the flag of the “High Ambition Coalition”, provided important backup.

Another success factor was the threat of unilateral action by the EU. Lack of progress at IMO, the Europeans made clear, could lead (and can still lead) to inclusion of shipping in the emission-trading scheme of the EU-ETS. This was a rather big stick to wield: The prospect of scattered regional rather than global regulation horrifies the shipping sector. EU parliamentarians attended  IMO meetings and added pressure by lending support to the European Commission’s Plan B.

A new degree of transparency

Added Into this mix was a new degree of transparency. Journalists are not allowed to report on what countries say during IMO meetings. Yet social media and leaks to media made it possible for the public to follow the positions of individual countries. Public blaming and shaming by environmental NGOs and activist Twitter accounts like @imoclimate as well as extensive coverage of country’s respective positions in the press seem to have had an effect – most of the countries less eager to commit to strong ambitions backed down in the end.

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ITF report “Decarbonising Maritime Transport: Pathways to zero-carbon shipping by 2035”

Finally, there were the facts. Over the past years, ample evidence has been collected which shows that zero-carbon shipping is possible and will create new opportunities. Innovative ship-owners demonstrated what is possible in practice, for example in Sweden. A range of studies, emanating from the research community (like or the University Marine Advisory Services, ship classification societies (like Lloyd’s Register) and policy think tanks like the International Transport Forum.

That said, much remains to be done. Finding agreement on short-term measures to reduce emissions will be a tough job. One of the guiding principles in the IMO Initial GHG Strategy is the concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities” (“CBDR” in climate-change speak), meaning while there is a shared obligation to address climate change, not everyone can be held responsible at the same level.  The introduction of this approach (adopted from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC) to the context of shipping (where all ships are treated equally,  irrespective of whether they fly the flag of a developing or developed country) is likely to make discussions on the concrete measures to cut CO2 complex and heated.

But that will come tomorrow. For now, let us just enjoy a historic moment.


Olaf Merk is a port and shipping expert at the International Transport Forum.

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Let’s get serious about saving lives!

Opinion Piece by Jean Todt, FIA President and UN Special Envoy for Road Safety

For a number of years now we have been complaining about the consequences of road crashes, the millions of premature deaths, the tens of millions of serious injuries that impair so many people for life.  We have been documenting the progression of the scourge, gathering statistics, disseminating facts and figures.  We have organized countless conferences, symposiums, workshops, to debate what to do to curb this seemingly unstoppable pandemics.  Only early on we agreed on one thing: it actually was not unstoppable, and more to the point, we knew what needed to be done to stop it.

Of course over time we refined our approach, deepened our knowledge, improved our understanding of what worked best in which circumstances.  Numerous institutions, including the World Bank and United Nations organizations, kept organizing training events to disseminate those findings and equip national and local governments with the tools they needed to fight this recurring disease.  Then the international community took notice and the Decade of Action for Road Safety was launched with the objective of reversing the trend, of eventually bringing down for good the mounting statistics of road crashes.

But let’s face it: despite all the good will, despite these multiple efforts, despite all the talk and conferences, people keep dying on the road in unacceptable numbers.

So this is the time to change gears.  This is the time to realize once and for all that a world in which 3,500 people die on the road every day for no reason can hardly be called civilized.  This is the time to move away from figures, statistics and reports, and look at what this is all about.  And this is about flesh and blood.  This is about saving lives.

We may be reaching a turning point.  Part of the reasons why so many efforts to date have met with too little success has to do with insufficient resources.  The countries suffering most from road crashes are also those so much in need of support on so many fronts that it becomes hard for their governments to set aside funding for something too many development experts have long considered to be some kind of collateral damage of growth.  Hopefully today nobody would claim this any longer, so all what remains is the need to find the proper means to deal with what should be a simple question, a question of life and death.

This week the United Nations General Assembly will establish the United Nations Road Safety Trust Fund.  We must all hope this will prove to be the tool we were missing in our quest to muster the resources needed to effectively turn the tide on road crashes.

Simultaneously the Safer City Streets network will meet in Rome for the third time, at the invitation of the International Transport Forum and with the support of the International Automobile Federation (FIA).  Let’s not forget about half of fatal crashes occur in cities.

And in a month from now, the eleventh edition of the International Transport Forum will take place in Leipzig, under the theme Transport Safety and Security.  This sequence must not be just another round of well-intentioned debates.  It must epitomize a renewed global commitment, a renewed global will, so that when we meet again a year from now, in New York City, in Rome, in Leipzig, in any far corner of this world, we can see an actual downturn in road deaths and injuries.

It’s time to reclaim the right to call this planet a civilized place.

It’s time to get serious about saving lives.

Join Jean Todt, transport ministers and business leaders at the ITF 2018 Summit on “Transport Safety and Security” on 23-25 May.