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Shipping emissions up in the air

Commercial ships steaming through international waters are pumping out increasing amounts of greenhouse gases that are out of the reach of the Kyoto Protocol and national regulatory schemes. A new report from the UK parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee warns it could take years to bring these emissions under control.

The UN’s International Maritime Organisation – tasked under Kyoto with figuring out how to regulate emissions from shipping – has failed to move fast enough, says the report. An IMO meeting on the issue held in October 2008 did not get as far as formulating a proposal that could be part of the negotiating text for a new global climate deal, now under discussion in Bonn.

Not that it’s a simple problem to solve. To deal with gases released on international routes, either various countries must divide responsibility, or else the gases have to go into a separate “international” basket that’s regulated on its own somehow. Both are thorny approaches. Nevertheless, says the committee:

There can be no excuse for the lack of progress within the International Maritime Organisation since the Kyoto protocol was signed. That the IMO has yet to reach agreement even over the type of emissions control regime to take forward, let alone decide any details, suggests it is not fit for purpose in this vital area.

The organization may still come up with something for Copenhagen. Miguel Palomares, Director of IMO’s Marine Environment Division, testified to parliament in October that an upcoming meeting in July might make “great advances”, and proposals could then be presented informally at the December negotiations. A spokesperson for the IMO Secretariat, Lee Adamson, confirmed to me that the outcome of the July meeting will be delivered to Copenhagen but could not comment on what progress might be made.

But the EAC report adds that “no witnesses believed it was likely that a global scheme to tackle shipping emissions would actually be agreed at Copenhagen.”

The report also scolds the UK government and the shipping industry for their sluggish approach to the issue. As the story hit national papers yesterday, the UK Chamber of Shipping struck back with a statement on behalf of the British shipping industry – Reuters picks that up here. The Chamber writes that “industry is actively considering mechanisms to achieve global reductions,” but “industry cannot reasonably be expected to provide the answers on its own.”

Anna Barnett


  1. Report this comment

    Hank Roberts said:

    Carbon tax, based on the output of the ship’s power plant.

    Tax on export if the receiving country isn’t taxing on import and vice versa.

    Do it now while a vast amount of inefficient old shipping is idled, to press for replacement.

    Ships burn the last, dirtiest, highest-sulfur sludge the refineries can pump.

    Plenty of discussion already in progress on this.

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