‘No Appetite’ at IMO for a Ship Speed Reduction Regulation

container ship at sea
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The International Maritime Organization appears to be backing away from pressure to introduce ship speed limits as part of its strategy to decarbonize the shipping industry. Instead, it has opted for a goal-setting approach as the best way to reduce carbon emissions in the short term. 

The revelations come following a meeting this week in London of an IMO Marine Environmental Protection Committee working group to consider Member States’ and NGOs’ proposals for measures to kickstart the IMO’s proposed strategy for tackling climate change. Proposals were expected to include mandatory ship speed reductions.

Environmental groups Seas at Risk and Transport & Environment have argued that cutting ships’ speeds is the closest thing to a “silver bullet” that the industry has for reducing CO2 emissions in the short term. Based on new research released by the groups prior to this week’s meeting, reducing speeds by 10 to 20 percent could produce 13%-24% less CO2, SOx and NOx emissions, respectively, as well as protect marine life. 

However, according to the UK Chamber of shipping, which attended the working group, IMO delegates have made clear that there is absolutely no appetite for a speed reduction regulation, rather, that a goal-setting approach is the best way to reduce emissions in the short-term.

“The IMO concluded that a mandatory goal-based approach will provide the needed flexibility and incentive for continued innovation across the industry and will be the best way to reduce emissions,” the UK Chamber of Shipping says. “Two methods, in line with the industry’s proposal, were recognised: a technical and an operational approach. It was agreed that the two approaches would be further refined, and their implementation and enforcement would also be developed at the next meeting in London next year.”

Full details of the approach will be resolved next year, the Chamber reported.

In 2018, the IMO agreed to a historic initial strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships. The initial strategy envisions reducing the total annual GHG emissions from ships by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, which simultaneously pursuing efforts to phase them out entirely. The initial strategy also contains specific reference to “a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals”.

An IMO Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships has been tasked with developing a plan for follow-up actions to begin delivering on the initial strategy, which is set to be finalized by 2023.

“The progress made sets the right direction of travel and is a good foundation for the IMO’s work to put the strategy into action. However, there is still a lot to be done and we encourage all parties to show at the next meeting the same level of cooperation and come forward with constructive ideas to make sure that we deliver the ambitions of the IMO Green House Gas strategy,” commented UK Chamber of Shipping Policy Director Anna Ziou.

The working group will report its findings to the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which is the ultimate decision-making body on issues regarding the strategy.

The group’s next meeting is set to take place next March and will include discussions on how we measure a ship’s efficiency accurately, establish a representative 2008 baseline and reflect the strategy’s targets to individual ships.