Countries have taken a first step towards reducing climate emissions from shipping with a global agreement to reduce energy use in new vessels from 2013 onwards.
The belated action on Friday by 55 of the world’s biggest sea-faring nations meeting at the UN’s international maritime organization in London will force all ships over 400 tons built after 2013 to improve their efficiency by 10 percent, rising to 20 percent between 2020 and 2024, and 30 percent for ships delivered after 2024.
The first ever regulation of emissions in shipping is expected to lead to greenhouse gas emission reductions of 45-50 million tons a year by 2020.
But China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have secured a six-and-a-half-year delay for new ships registered in developing countries, which could mean the first guaranteed effective date of the reform will be in 2019.
Shipping accounts for 3-4 percent of man-made CO2 emissions worldwide, and this figure is expected to rise to 6 percent by 2020, with emissions doubling by 2050 if no action is taken. Shipowners, who traditionally do not pay for the fuel that their ships use, have long resisted any regulation despite increasing pressure from environmental groups and reformers within the industry.
Environmental NGOs welcomed the tightening of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) standard but cautioned that because it only applies to new ships replacing older ones at the end of their long lives, the full effects of today’s decision will take a long time to have any major impact. There is a significant danger, said some, that many shipowners will elect to have their new ships flagged in developing countries that provide a waiver.
“Today’s decision should result in fuel savings of $5 billion a year by 2020 and CO2 reductions of 22 million tons. This is an unprecedented economic and environmental opportunity and the IMO has taken an important step forward,” said Peter Boyd, COO of Carbon War Room.
If the same standards were applied to the existing fleet of more than 30,000 ocean-going ships it could save $50 billion a year in fuel and 220 million tons of CO2, he said.
“There will be no change to existing ships, which are currently pumping out a billion tons of CO2 each year, and for new ships it will take another dozen years until the EEDI is really delivering benefits. Operational changes could be delivering major benefits today,” said Jacqueline Savitz, the senior campaign director for the marine conservation NGO Oceana.
The efficiency improvements are expected to be met through better engine design, more efficient hull shapes, improved waste heat recovery systems and the use of hull coatings to make ships more “slippery.”
The deal is not likely to satisfy the European Commission that the maritime organization is successfully regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The EC is therefore expected to proceed with its threat to bring shipping into the Emissions Trading Scheme, as it is doing in aviation, where there have been recent legal challenges from non-European countries.
In a separate development on Friday, the European Commission said it plans to tighten ship fuel sulfur regulations, which should lead to public health savings of billions of dollars, especially in countries like Britain and Holland that border busy sea lanes. The proposal would cut the maximum permissible sulfur content of fuels to 0.1 percent from 1.5 percent from 2015 in sensitive areas such as the Baltic Sea and the Channel, and to 0.5 percent from 4.5 percent in all other areas from 2020.
Shipping burns some of the most polluting fuels, and the proposal is expected to fine particle emissions from ships by up to 80 percent, the commission said.
The expected cost to the shipping industry of the new standards is between €2.6 billion and €11 billion ($3.7-$15.6 billion), which the EU executive argues would be far outweighed by public health savings, of up to €34 billion.