“All at Sea”

As our previous blog explains, there is little relief from GHG emissions generated by air transport. What is the situation for ocean transport? The answer to this question: “All at sea! (to use a “salty” expression)

Seven years ago the maritime transport industry, represented at Durban by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), told the COP Conference that international shipping would accept a carbon tax of $25 per ton on fuel used in transport.

Nothing came out of this constructive proposal. Nonetheless, 4RG continues to support a tax on goods moving in international transport. As economists will tell you, in time this tax will reduce the ecological footprint of international trade.

The maritime transport industry is now taking a different tack. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is a UN Organization that oversees maritime transport. Industry associations, including ICS, successfully lobbied the IMO on the issue of reduction of emissions by their members.

These associations noted that

  • The Paris Agreement does not impose legally binding requirements on States that adopted the Agreement.
  • There are no legal consequences that result from any under or over performance regarding emissions.

So they submitted the IMO should push UNFCC to accept the same approach to CO2 reductions by international shipping.

What’s more, the industry associations urged that any targets should be regarded as “aspirational”. These “Aspirational Objectives” would establish a baseline year for peak emissions from international shipping, as well as setting out a “serious” long-term goal (the middle of the century) for cutting the sector’s CO2 emissions to 50% of 2008 levels.

Here are some of the reactions of environmental organizations who followed the discussions:

Influence Map Research Director Thomas O’Neill:

“Industry has clearly significantly undermined the ambition of the global deal on shipping emissions.  During the Paris agreement, we did not have coal companies telling us what was possible. However, the IMO’s structure, corporate capture, and funding—which relies on flag states*—makes this eventuality almost inevitable.” (*Flag States are those countries with a large commercial fleet.)

John Meggs, senior policy advisor at Seas at Risk and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition:

“But what happens next is crucial. The IMO must move swiftly to introduce measures that will cut in-sector emissions deeply and quickly in the short-term. Without these, the goals of the Paris agreement will remain out of reach.”

Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network-Canada:

“The IMO decision is a “small step from the shipping industry” to contribute to the Paris goals. . .. “With the world’s longest coastline, Canada should use its position as this year’s G7 President to further pursue ambitious and transparent actions to address shipping emissions in a way that it aligns with the objectives of the Paris agreement.”

Our reaction: it is ironic that the international maritime industry should exploit fundamental principles of the Paris Agreement to justify avoiding more significant reduction targets.

The Paris Agreement has been emptied of the high expectations created when its terms were adopted by the nations of the world.

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