Hot funnels #2: shipping and climate media wrap

A round-up of the top shipping + climate stories from June and July

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and MEPC71 chair Arsenio Dominguez (Pic credit: IMO)

With the US under Trump ripping up climate policies at home and abroad, the UN’s International Maritime Organisation’s own climate plan has come under intense scrutiny.

Was June’s meeting of the Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) the moment for countries opposed to tougher carbon cuts to let rip?

China and the EU thought not, reported Bloomberg, citing a renewed drive to cap emissions from the maritime sector by leaders in Beijing and Brussels.

“The shift toward clean power was prompted by the Paris climate agreement, as well as the threat of regional rules being considered by the EU and tested in China,” read Anna Hirtenstein’s report, published during MEPC71.

“Europe has proposed a plan to add ship emissions to its trading system by 2023 if the IMO talks don’t succeed. China is piloting a similar program that includes Shanghai’s ports and shipping industry.”

Politico focused on what it termed the fight “between developed and emerging economies and between those with big shipping industries and those without.”

“The more resistant camp is mostly made up of emerging economies such as Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa, Argentina and Saudi Arabia, and another Pacific state, the Cook Islands. For these countries, cheap shipping is crucial to their economic growth,” wrote Sara Stefanini.

French daily Le Monde explored the role of Pacific Island ministers, who arrived in London en-masse to make the case for shipping paying its fair share of global carbon cuts.

“Unusually in this ultra-technocratic UN agency, speeches have become more political, carried by delegations of small islands of the Pacific,” wrote Eric Albert.

“For us it is a matter of survival,” says the World Natan Teewe, the Minister of Justice of Kiribati, a republic of thirty-three islands situated 4,000 kilometres from Hawaii.”

Mixed results

Press releases from the IMO and International Chamber of Shipping glossed over the two weeks of talks, arguing progress had been made towards a 2018 interim climate deal.

Other coverage was less generous. Writing in Splash 24/7, Maurice Meehan from Carbon War Room warned the agreement at IMO left the door ajar for “inaction”.

Still, there is a “rising tide of will to decarbonise the industry,” he added, citing EU and Chinese support for emission reductions.

The main plenary during MEPC71, held at the IMO’s London HQ (Pic: IMO)

In Lloyds List Helen Kelly focused her ire on IMO’s inability to fully implement the 2004 ballast water convention, which saw a final deadline for action pushed back to 2024.

“To an outsider, the failure to act on a convention that was first adopted in 2004 would seem really rather astounding. It’s not like the industry has been sideswiped by this change, after all, and the negative effects of invasive species on natural seawater habitats are well documented,” she said.

“Hand-wringing over the slow progress of technology and subsequent system type approval process will only go so far. Now we have the extension, owners and operators must get a move on and comply. The world is fast growing tired of the shipping sector’s excuses.”

75% emission cuts

It’s hard to believe after a week of slothness at IMO, but the sector could nix emissions 75% using a slew of proven technologies and operating standards.

That was the fairly remarkable analysis in a paper published in the journal Transportation Research, and covered by Splash 24/7.

“Sleeker hulls, bigger ships, efficient operations and the use of sustainable biofuels can ensure the shipping sector radically cuts its greenhouse gas footprint by mid-century,” read the study.

Still, costs are unclear and no single measure would be effective on its own, cautioned study author Dr Elizabeth Lindstad, from the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute.

Climate risk

In early June the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD), a G20 and Financial Stability Board creation, issued new recommendations for climate risk reporting.

Shipping was not directly mentioned, but writing in Lloyds List, PwC partner and TCFD board member Jon Williams argued the industry needs to take note.

“Businesses must wargame various scenarios — including one where the world makes the carbon cuts needed to avoid warming of above 2C — and assess their profitability and resilience to these eventualities,” he said.

“For example, based on the scenarios developed shipping companies may need to consider the impact of a high carbon price on the cost of fuel and consequently on their operational costs and profitability.

“In a week when the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is debating what tools it can use to slash maritime greenhouse gas emissions, this is a reality that can no longer be ignored.”

RMI exposed?

The tax-free shipping company that took control of a country’s UN mission. Chew on that headline for a second… and then read on.

Climate Home’s expose of how the Marshall Islands shipping registry has come to control the country’s seat at the IMO was stunning, and made waves at last week’s MEPC71 talks.

Ship efficiency stalls

What? Ships aren’t getting more efficient? But IMO and industry keeps telling us they are! Yes… we’re as confused as you are.

A study commissioned by Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment found the number of ships meeting future efficiency standards decreased in 2016, while design efficiency also stagnated.

“Despite a clear trend of increasing over-compliance with ship design efficiency standards over recent years, ships built in 2016 mark a clear break from this tendency,” said Faig Abbasov, shipping officer at T&E.

“Unless EEDI requirements are tightened, there is a risk that this backsliding could continue back to efficiency levels merely required by regulation.”

Smoggy cruise ships

Passengers relaxing on their luxury cruise sun loungers should beware: fumes from the funnel could be poisoning them.

That’s the brutal warning in a Channel 4 Dispatches documentary that screened on day 1 of MEPC.

Here’s the Guardian’s take: “Dispatches used a P-Trak ultrafine particle counter to measure the ultra-fine particulates suspended in the air on board P&O Cruises’ ship Oceana. The Oceana is more than 250 metres long, 15 storeys high and can carry more than 2,000 passengers.

“The device found 84,000 ultra-fine particulates per cubic centimetre on the deck downwind of, and directly next to, the Oceana’s funnels. That’s more than double the amount found at London’s Piccadilly Circus, where the number of ultra-fine particulates per cubic centimetre was 38,400.”