IMO Toughens Up on Climate Change

In an effort to tackle climate change, member states of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) have agreed to enact tougher carbon standards on newbuild ships two years earlier than planned. At the 74th meeting of the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) in London last month, members drafted amendments to International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI, Regulation 20, which sets out targets for lowering carbon dioxide emission levels in newbuild ships. These amendments, if adopted at the next meeting in November, will set tougher energy efficiency targets for large commercial ships.

The UN watchdog for the global maritime sector aims to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent between 2008 and 2030, and by 70 percent between 2008 and 2050. Improving energy efficiency of the merchant fleet is the primary means of achieving this, and the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) was developed as a technical measure of ship engines and equipment performance. The index sets out a maximum carbon dioxide output (grams per tonnage mile) for newbuild ships, but there is no prescription for how to achieve the efficiency targets, leaving innovation to the private sector.

Setting a baseline for carbon emissions from ships at 2000-2010 levels, the industry must cut emissions by a certain percentage moving forward. Phase 1, which started in Jan. 1, 2016, required a 10 percent reduction in emissions. The second phase, starting Jan. 1, requires a reduction between 15 percent and 20 percent. From Jan. 1, 2025, Phase 3 requires a 30 percent reduction. If draft amendments are accepted, the final phase would mandate a 50 percent cut in emissions for some vessel types, and would be brought forward from 2025 to Jan. 1, 2022.

The regulation covers the largest ships in the merchant fleet, including tankers, bulk carriers, gas carriers, general cargo ships, container ships, refrigerated cargo carriers, combination carriers, LNG carriers, Ro-Ro (Roll-on Roll-off) cargo ships, Ro-Ro passenger ships, and cruise passenger ships using nonconventional propulsion. Combined, the regulated vessels account for an estimated 85 percent of industry carbon dioxide emissions.

Fuel is a critical factor in managing energy efficiency, not only in terms of fuel selection and engine efficiency but also the rate of fuel burn through speed management. This will be a key consideration at MEPC 75 in November, when further consideration will be given to concrete proposals that encourage the uptake of low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels, lifecycle carbon intensity guidelines for different marine fuel types and incentive schemes for adoption. The Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions will consider a draft resolution urging member states to update national action plans and associated guidelines that aim to reduce GHG emissions from the shipping sector.

With regards to the upcoming change in global sulfur limits, the IMO approved non-binding guidelines to help member states enforce the new standard. The MEPC adopted 2019 guidelines for consistent implementation of the 0.5 percent sulphur limit and 2019 guidelines for port state control under MARPOL Annex VI. Amendments were also made to the guidelines for best practice for member states, encouraging port state countries to adopt a bunker licensing programs, as is the case already in Singapore, as a means to regulate fuel supply.

As expected, the MEPC approved several draft changes to the MARPOL treaty, as proposed by the Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR 6), which are due for ratification at the next session. These pertain to shoreside and onboard fuel sampling procedures to guarantee compliance along the bunker supply chain. Delivered fuel must be 100 percent compliant, but under regulatory amendments, onboard and in-use fuel samples will have a tolerance limit of 95 percent, meaning fuel can have up to 0.53 percent sulfur and 0.11 percent in emission control area zones.

There is also more clarity on the use of fuel non-availability reports (FONAR) under Annex VI, Regulation 18. Contrary to popular belief, the FONAR is not a waiver. In the event of nonavailability of compliant fuel, the ship’s captain must proactively alert the flag state and port state authorities ahead of time. As per the regulatory amendment, the burden of proof is on the ship operator. Port authorities may request evidence of the efforts by ship operators to obtain compliant fuel, including recorded attempts to purchase compliant fuel, with allowances for operations constraints and safety issues.