Last week the top EU climate official, Jos Delbeke, issued a challenge to the International Maritime Organization (the IMO) to adopt an ambitious target for reduction of emissions as part of the IMO’s planned 2018 strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

Existing IMO strategy

The IMO has already introduced a raft of legislation in this area so far this decade.

In 2011 the IMO adopted mandatory CO2 emission standards for new-build ships by way of an amendment to MARPOL Annex VI. Those measures came into force in 2013 and included the Energy Efficiency Design Index (the EEDI), which requires a minimum energy efficiency level per tonne of vessel per mile for new-build ships. The programme involves a tightening of efficiency standards for new-build ships every 5 years, up to at least 2025. The IMO also introduced an obligation for ships to carry energy efficiency management plans on board.

More recently, in October 2016, the IMO adopted a process to introduce a global data collection system for fuel consumption information from ships. This process will involve an amendment to MARPOL Annex VI requiring ships over 5,000 GT to record and report their fuel consumption via their flag state on an annual basis. The details of the data collection process have not yet been released, but it is due to come into force in March 2018 with the first compliance year for data collection commencing on 1 January 2019.

However, it is clear from last week’s pronouncement by the EU’s climate official, and from earlier calls by the EU Parliament for the shipping sector to be included in the EU’s existing emissions trading scheme from 2023 absent an adequate and equivalent IMO scheme, that the EU does not consider the existing IMO measures to be ambitious enough.

Existing EU strategy

The EU introduced its own program for monitoring, reporting and verification (shortened to MRV) of CO2 emissions from ships in 2015. The MRV Regulation (EU 2015/757) will require all vessels over 5,000 GT to provide details of CO2 emissions, fuel consumption, distance travelled and time at sea when they call at ports in EU Member States, Iceland and Norway, beginning in 2018. This will come into force earlier than the IMO global data collection system and will involve more regular compliance than the annual return anticipated under the IMO reporting system. The EU Regulation will undoubtedly place additional burdens on owners and managers.

The way forward

The EU made it clear last week that it expects the IMO to introduce an ambitious target for emission reduction, alongside other measures in its upcoming 2018 strategy.

However, there appear to be doubts in EU circles that the IMO will rise to the challenge, and EU climate official Jos Delbeke appeared to issue a veiled threat to include shipping in the existing EU emissions trading scheme by 2023 if action is not taken independently by the IMO. Indeed, it is unclear how the EU anticipates the IMO could enforce an ambitious emissions reduction target other than via an emissions trading scheme.

Submissions for the June 2017 IMO meeting on greenhouse gas emissions are due to be tabled shortly and it remains to be seen whether any additional measures in the IMO’s 2018 strategy will rise to the EU’s challenge.