Shipping Climate Talks Expose EU Divisions

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EU negotiators will meet in London this week to discuss on the emerging economy giants need for an urgent action to curb pollution from the shipping industry, reports Politica.

Revamping IMO strategy

International delegates are meeting to finalize a strategy on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from shipping which accounts for 2.6 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions — a share that’s likely to grow as other parts of the economy make efforts to cut back on carbon emissions thanks to the Paris climate agreement.

The EU countries are proposing for a minimum of 70 percent cut in carbon emissions by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, and aiming for 100 percent as a best-case scenario. But it seems this has erupted stark differences within the EU, i.e. between greener Northern European countries and those in Southern Europe with large shipping industries.

It was visible during a play out last month, when the Council of the EU hashed out a position for all 28 member countries. Malta, Greece and Cyprus — among the world’s biggest flag states (6th, 9th and 11th respectively) — watered down the stance to change it from being a binding commitment to only a nonbinding “preference.”

Growing differences

Those countries also retain the option to align with emerging economies in opposing stringent checks at the IMO, despite heading to negotiations under a common EU umbrella.

“I’m very pessimistic” on the likely outcome of the talks, said Natalie Unterstell, a former climate negotiator for the Brazilian government who campaigns for the Institute for Climate and Society, an NGO.

This month’s meeting is only the first step toward a deal to curb emissions, since the IMO isn’t set to agree its final strategy until 2023.

Arctic fuel ban

The meeting will also deal with other pollution issues, tackling a ban on heavy fuel oils in the Arctic, as well as a measure to cut the sulfur content in marine fuels to 0.5 percent by the start of 2020.

Paris climate meet

Back in December, the EU joined a group of Pacific islands in signing the Tony de Brum Declaration (named after the former Marshall Islands minister) that called on the shipping industry to play its part in meeting the Paris climate agreement’s goals.

Ships, alongside aviation, were left out of the Paris deal in part because of the difficulty of attributing emissions to individual nations. This came with the understanding that the heavily polluting industries would agree their own strategies. The European Commission predicts pollution from ships will account for 17 percent of global emissions by 2050.

Unrealistic targets

Miiko Peris, chair of the Council’s shipping working party, which is leading the EU’s position at the IMO, said it expects “a collective effort by all IMO member states and stakeholders” in London.

The shipping industry says setting emissions reduction targets that are too ambitious would be unrealistic, expensive and damaging to global trade.

According to the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), an industry lobby, the technology for alternative fuels isn’t yet available to allow the shipping industry to decarbonize. The bunker fuel used by large, ocean-going vessels is cheap but dirty, a thick tar-like compound with a high sulfur and carbon content.

ICS Chairman Esben Poulsson said the EU should soften its proposed targets since even a lower goal “would still require a major improvement in ship efficiency.”

The OECD think tank the International Transport Forum said this month that decarbonization would be possible by 2035, with a combination of alternative fuels such as methanol and hydrogen, improvements in ship design and slower ship speeds.

The shipping industry says otherwise. “While ICS does not fully agree with them in every respect, alternative proposals made by China and Japan merit serious consideration and could form the basis of a possible compromise,” said Poulsson.

Japan’s proposal to the IMO suggests a 40 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 from 2008 levels, and 50 percent by 2060. China’s submission, meanwhile, doesn’t include timelines or pathways — stating that the country “firmly opposes the proposal to maintain international shipping’s total emissions below 2008 levels.”

“If EU nations want a global agreement they should acknowledge [other countries’ willingness to compromise] by similarly modifying their own positions,” Poulsson said.

As well as aiming for near-full decarbonization by 2050, the EU wants to improve energy efficiency by 50-70 percent by the same date.

A BRIC wall

Brazil, meanwhile, is heading up a loose group of emerging economies together with India, Argentina and Saudi Arabia. In a joint submission ahead of the meeting, the group scratched out a commitment to lower emissions “significantly” by 2050 and instead requested the IMO focus on energy efficiency, Climate Home News reported. The position also ruled out implementing any short-term measures before the IMO adopts its final strategy in 2023.

Countries like India hung much of their Paris negotiation stance on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities, which gives developing countries greater leeway for action on climate change that could limit economic growth.

The EU maintains this shouldn’t apply to shipping since the flag of a vessel has little to do with the nationality of its owner. Some of the largest shipping registries belong to developing nations including Panama, the Marshall Islands and Liberia. That gives the Marshall Islands a particularly strong hand in alliance with Northern Europe — it’s both an industry heavyweight and a climate-vulnerable country.

For Brazil, its effort to oppose stringent limits stems from concerns over commodities trade: The government says profitable industries such as iron ore, soybeans, sugar and oil could be threatened by cutting the speed of ships to reduce emissions.

Unterstell disputes that claim, saying there’s little evidence to suggest emissions rules will affect the country’s export business. Support from Chile and Peru plus minimal domestic pressure on climate issues has emboldened Brazil’s government, Unterstell said. “It feels it has very little stakes on the table.”

As Southern European and Asian nations take aim at the EU’s position, environmentalists predict the IMO could settle on Japan’s proposal as a compromise.

Faig Abbasov, shipping officer at Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment, said this would not be strong enough to meet global climate goals.

According to Abbasov, Japan’s suggested targets would see global carbon dioxide emissions exceed by 7 gigatons the amount needed to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, in line with the Paris accord. “The ‘middle ground’ is really bad,” he said.

“We don’t want to think about anything else but a good outcome,” said Abbasov. “But we have our doubts.”

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Source: Politico