China, EU Bolster Greener Global Shipping to Curb Emissions

The trillion-dollar global shipping industry may soon be forced to curb greenhouse gas emissions under new rules backed by the European Union and China.

Over 200 representatives convened this week at the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations shipping supervisor based in London, to discuss regulation that could turn their industry, currently responsible for as much as 3 percent of the world’s emissions, into a zero-carbon operation by the second half of the century.

The shift toward clean power was prompted by the Paris climate agreement, as well as the threat of regional rules being considered by the EU and tested in China. Europe has proposed a plan to add ship emissions to its trading system by 2023 if the IMO talks don’t succeed. China is piloting a similar program that includes Shanghai’s ports and shipping industry.

The EU proposal “sets a deadline for the IMO to introduce a target and measures,” said Sotiris Raptis, senior adviser to the European Sea Ports Organization and former EU parliamentary adviser. “But it’s a global industry, it’s difficult to regulate emissions generated outside of jurisdiction.”

Imposing emissions would close a loophole left by the 2015 Paris climate agreement. Ship engines almost always burn heavy fuel oil, one of the dirtiest and cheapest forms of energy. IMO members will return to discuss their strategy and level of ambition in October. An agreement could be drafted by next year and implemented in 2023.

With global trade expected to nearly double by 2030, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, the task to reign in emissions from shipping — which carries about 90 percent of the world’s goods — will become more important. If left unchecked, the industry could account for 17 percent of the world’s carbon emissions by 2050, according to research from the European Parliament.

That in turn would make achieving Paris accord’s goal to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) even more elusive.

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