The 69th meeting of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC69) in April discussed and decided on a range of significant measures to reduce the impact of shipping on the environment. However, the topic foremost on delegates’ and shipping industry watchers’ minds was CO2 emission reductions. Would the global fuel consumption data collection system be approved? And what would be shipping’s response to the Paris Agreement?

There were fierce negotiations during the COP21 talks on whether global CO2 emission reduction targets should be imposed on shipping. Special scrutiny on our industry is well placed in my view. Even if we are by far the most CO2-efficient transport mode, shipping accounts for 2.2% of global CO2 emissions, and for intercontinental transport of large amounts of goods there are no real options. We are also inherently global, with activities mostly outside the borders of the nations covered by the climate agreement. In the end, shipping was left out, but with a clear message to the IMO to ensure the industry comes back with its own plan on how to contribute to the 2 degree target. 

The IMO MEPC69 handling this topic took place just days before the signing of the Paris Agreement. Discussions were intense, with several nations and shipping NGOs advocating an IMO-determined contribution on CO2 reduction for international shipping, whilst others said the existing mandatory data collection scheme and timetable for target setting were sufficient. The outcome can be called at best a mixed result. On the positive side, the final hurdles surrounding the data collection scheme were cleared, though the timeline from measurement to action is long. Less impressive was the lack of unity around the matter of CO2 targets. This objective was broadly supported in the committee, including by shipping NGOs such as the World Shipping Council and the International Chamber of Shipping, but a major divide emerged on the timing of such an effort, and the issue was sent to a working group to be raised at MEPC70 in October.

As a UN body, the IMO holds fast to democratic principles and strives for consensus, which is laudable but seldom yields fast results. In this case, I sincerely hope the parties come together and can demonstrate clear progress at the next meeting. Temperatures for the first months of 2016 are the highest on record – confounding scientists by the scale and pace of temperature rise. It is a wake-up call for all industries to do their part to address climate change.

Shipping should take care to be the captain of our own route to lower emissions. A clear objective and implementation plan from the IMO will create demand for new technology, focusing research and funds on reducing CO2 emissions. Inaction, on the other hand, comes with a real risk that targets are imposed anyway, potentially with levies that will divert funds away from the industry instead of readying it for the future.

As a liner shipping company that pays for its own fuel, WWL has every motivation to reduce fuel consumption and with that CO2 emissions. Every day we work to optimise our planning, routing, speed and operations, investing in talented people, systems and technology. We have achieved a 20% reduction in CO2 emissions per tonne-kilometre in the past decade, and working with customers and other partners we continue towards our zero-emissions goal.