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IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee: Running at Full Speed to Stay on Schedule

Photo: International Maritime Organization

IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee: Running at Full Speed to Stay on Schedule

Barry Parker
Total Views: 1329
June 8, 2022

One of the best characterizations of the International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) came in Greece (1,500 miles from IMO headquarters), on a panel at the Tradewinds Shipping Conference (held in conjunction with the Posidonia exhibition.  One of the panelists said “I’ve learned not to predict the outcome of MEPC meetings on their third day; I’ve even learned not to predict the MEPC results on their fifth day”. Yes, there’s a lot going on this week!

Three days into the MEPC78 meeting, held both in-person and virtually, there has been an emphasis on setting the path for revising the IMO’s “Initial Strategy” on shipping decarbonization, suggesting a goal of 50% decarbonization by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. Since its release in 2018, proposals have been put forth to change and finalize it. One group has suggested going to “net zero” by 2050, which would put it in-line with the widely adopted Paris Agreement, though opinions from delegates are far from unanimous on this.

Some factions were suggesting that detailed economic impact, feasibility and fuel availability studies were needed before revising the strategy. 

On Day 2 of MEPC78, the meeting chairperson threw down the gauntlet in the form of three questions to be considered- 

  • proposals for strengthened levels of ambition, including possible target years;
  • proposals related to ensuring a fair and just transition
  • how to ensure the revision to the Initial Strategy is finalized before MEPC 80

The IMO has a tremendous amount of work to do if it will keep on schedule with its goals, with the MEPC80 (previous meetings have set this is the time for “revision” or “finalizing”) set for 2023. In summing up, the chairperson’s  statement included wording on an agreement to recommend to the IMO Council to endorse the holding of an intersessional meeting before the next  MEPC meeting  (MEPC 79, scheduled for December, 2022). In theory, this working group, which would be called “ISWG-GHG 13”, in principle to be organized back-to-back with MEPC 79, would include the discussions on revision of the Initial Strategy.

But then, there are cries for more meetings and more discussions to keep on the timeline.  The chairperson’s summary talked about establishing another working group on GHG emissions during MEPC 79, and then setting up not one, but two groups in between the upcoming MEPC79 (late 2022) and MEPC80. The summary did not stop there. It asked delegates to consider carrying out additional studies and organizing information session(s) and/or symposia, as appropriate, supporting the revision process, and encouraging the delegations “to work together intersessionally on developing concrete proposals on the revision of the Strategy.”

A previous working group (“ISWG-GHG 12”, held during Spring 2022) had come up with many recommendations for fine-tuning the rules on CII and EEXI; rules on carbon intensity and efficient  vessel designs that will take effect at the beginning of 2023. Many of that ISWG-GHG 12 working group’s suggestions sailed through the discussion, though there are still some questions—for example, adjusting the CII calculations to take into account vessel trading programs, where ISWG-GHG 12” members (working virtually) could not come to a consensus. Ships that steer around storms could be penalized, for example. 

And then there is the “Medium Term”. ISWG-GHG 12 had taken a crack at this, but there is much more to be done as the plans for working group discussions move into their next phase. Thinking back about the comments from Athens, MEPC78 still has two days to go, and we can’t always predict what might happen!

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