The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is meeting this week to develop a package of technical and operational measures to reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) from international shipping and to hold an in-depth debate on possible market-based instruments to provide incentives for the shipping industry. The 59th session of the MEPC takes place in London this week.

Other issues on the agency to be discussed include the adoption of amendments to the MARPOL Convention; and the implementation of MARPOL Annex VI, the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, 2009, and the 2004 Ballast Water Management Convention.

According to the IMO, the measures being considered include an Energy Efficiency Design Index for new ships, which is intended to stimulate innovation and technical development of all the elements influencing the energy efficiency of a ship from its design phase, and a Ship Energy Management Plan, for new and existing ships, which incorporates best practices for the fuel efficient operation of ships. The plan incorporates an Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator for new and existing ships, which enables operators to measure the fuel efficiency of a ship in operation. These measures will form a package intended to be agreed at the meeting for further trials.

In a prepared statement, the IMO said that MEPC will also give further consideration to market-based measures, recognizing that technical and operational measures may not be sufficient to reduce the desired amount of GHG emissions from ships, if shipping activity increases as a consequence of growth in global trade. Such measures would have two main purposes: to offset growing emissions in other sectors; and to serve as an incentive for the industry to invest in more fuel-efficient technologies. The two market-based instruments that will be discussed at the MEPC are a maritime emission trading scheme and an international contribution fund for GHG Emissions from ships, based on a global contribution on marine bunkers.

One of the important documents on the MEPC's agenda will be the Second IMO GHG Study 2009, which provides the most comprehensive and authoritative figures on the impact of shipping on climate change. The Study estimates the reduction potential of different technologies and practices, as well as their cost effectiveness, and also evaluates the different policy options under consideration. The 2009 Study reaches a number of significant conclusions, including:
international shipping is estimated to have emitted, in 2007, 870 million tons, or about 2.7 per cent of the global manmade emissions of CO2; mid-range emission scenarios suggest that, by 2050, in the absence of reduction policies, ship emissions may grow by 150 to 250 per cent (compared to 2007 emissions) as a result of growth in world trade; and a significant potential for reduction of GHGs through technical and operational measures has been identified. Together, if all measures are implemented, including significant reduction in operational speed, they could, by 2050, increase efficiency and reduce the emissions rate very considerably below the current levels on a tonnes/mile basis.

The decisions of the MEPC on GHG emissions from ships will be reported to the Conference that the United Nations will convene in Copenhagen in December 2009, to debate a successor instrument to the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

A proposal to designate specific portions of the coastal waters of the United States and Canada as an Emission Control Area (ECA) will be considered by the MEPC. The ECA would be for the control of emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx), and particulate matter, under the revised MARPOL Annex VI Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships, which was adopted in October 2008 and is expected to come into force on 1 July 2010.

Currently, the revised Annex lists two ECAs: the Baltic Sea area and the North Sea, which includes the English Channel.