The International Chamber of Shipping, World Shipping Council and Maersk CEO Søren Skou look back on the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 77 with disappointment. No agreement was reached on reducing shipping emissions further or the desired USD 5 billion R&D fund to advance zero-emission technology.

‘This week’s meetings have missed the opportunity to take forward a range of GHG reduction measures, which would accelerate the development of zero emissions ships that are urgently needed at scale to decarbonise our sector,’ says International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Secretary General, Guy Platten. ‘It’s almost as if COP 26 never happened.’

He adds that governments ‘can’t keep kicking the can down the road’. He sees the 5 billion dollar R&D fund as ‘an immediate step to be followed by a levy-based carbon price for shipping. The adoption of both these measures will be the only way to deliver on net zero emissions from shipping by 2050 while ensuring an equitable transition that leaves no one behind.’

According to Platten there was not enough time dedicated to allow IMO member states to take a decision on the 5 billion dollar fund at this session while it ‘is the only proposal on the table ready for immediate agreement.’ He fears that without action from the IMO, the organisation cannot maintain its leadership and ‘others may then move in to fill the vacuum’.

Also read: ‘The research is there, but who will invest in zero-emissions ships?’

Drive progress

The World Shipping Council (WSC) came away with a similar feeling. The organisation states that it was disappointing that ‘the same governments that were making lofty statements at COP26 just days ago, again fail to walk the talk when it comes to real action at the IMO’.

‘Our challenge as a hard-to-abate sector is that the technology and fuels needed for a transition to zero are not yet available. We see the direction, and now need to drive progress towards a tipping point where the technologies for zero-GHG shipping can be applied and a clear demand picture can drive availability of and infrastructure for alternative fuels. That is why IMO member countries inexplicable stalling around the [IMO Maritime Research Fund] is so dangerous. We can talk all we want about the ambitions for 2050, but unless we put initiatives to drive real progress in place, we are not going to get there,’ says John Butler, President & CEO of WSC.

The WSC says that with the fund, zero-GHG vessels can be on the water by the early 2030s, but that the IMO is not working fast enough now. Butler: ‘Debating ambitious targets for far-away deadlines avoids the more difficult discussions on discrete actions to be undertaken and should not be mistaken for actual progress. We need the political establishment to move from targets to action.’

More forceful and direct

Maersk CEO Skou called on the IMO ‘to deliver to stand a chance to decarbonise shipping and we need progress now’. According to him, ‘it is time for ambitious states to be more forceful and direct. The global shipping community – shippers, investors, bankers, shipowners, authorities and many more stand united in calling for regulation.’

He suggests a package of measures to make zero-emission shipping:

  • A global fuel standard (securing the needed production of the new fuels)
  • A “drop dead” date to mark a future deadline for the building of fossil-fuelled ships;
  • A global fund and GHG price to secure just transition (i.e. channeling support to developing countries);
  • Initial deployment of green corridors;
  • Enhancing the IMO data collection system and ensuring it is transparent.

IMO Research Fund

The IMO Maritime Research Fund (IMRF) is a USD 5 billion R&D fund. Paid for by the industry, at no cost to governments or taxpayers, the fund would be used to accelerate the rapid increase of Technology Readiness Levels to ensure zero-carbon fuels can be used on large ocean-going ships. The fund would be financed by a mandatory R&D contribution equivalent to USD 2 per tonne of fuel.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) was seen as a critical meeting for the fund and it was expected to be voted on. This has now been postponed to MEPC 78, to be held from 6-10 June 2022.

Also read: ICS, IMO and GCF seek to kickstart zero carbon R&D fund