Ocean Rebellion

IMO MEPC 79 off to a dramatic start as environmentalists call for an end of fossil fuels

The Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting at the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO) kick-started on Monday with delegates arriving in London to meet in person for the first time since 2019.

Image credit: Ocean Rebellion

The delegates were off to a dramatic start as Ocean Rebellion, a grassroots international art collective that tackles ocean degradation and biodiversity loss, staged a performance in front of IMO’s headquarters seeking the elimination of fossil fuels’ use in the shipping industry.

The performance painted a rather grotesque image of two suited figures crawling through the oil clutching their briefcases accompanied by three activists portraying fossil fuels lobbyists with flames and black carbon fog of heavy fuel oil in the background.

One case said ‘ON A HIGHWAY TO HELL’ and the other ‘OUR FOOT ON THE GAS’, paraphrasing the recent words of Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General at COP27.

COP 27 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded just three weeks ago in Egypt. The meeting recognized the ‘urgency to rapidly transform energy systems to be more secure, reliable, and resilient’ calling for unprecedented action in this decade.

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The organization is calling for the IMO to align itself with the 1.5-degree trajectory of the Paris Agreement and put an end to the use of fossil fuels as marine fuels in the sector, including liquified natural gas (LNG). The protest also asked for an end to scrubbers as they allow the industry to continue burning HFO at sea while earning substantial premiums.

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“The IMO is failing in its duty to meet the Paris Climate Agreement. It must act now to halve shipping emissions before 2030, advise against any fossil fuel subsidies and demand member states start severely taxing shipping fuel. All fossil fuel lobbyists must be ejected from committees and black-listed for their consistent bad influence on policy making, all IMO processes must be made transparent and open to scrutiny,” the organization said.

The protest adds fuel to the rising pressure on the IMO to set more ambitious targets in decarbonizing the shipping industry. The current emission reduction objectives set by the UN body aim for halving GHG emissions by 2050. However, momentum in the public and in the shipping sector is building for a net zero target by 2050.

There have been some positive signs from last week’s Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG), hinting that the member states are inching away at a deal on more stringent targets. That being said, the IMO has been infamous for being rather slow with its work entangled in bureaucracy which often failed to result in concrete action. The ongoing MEPC session needs to build the foundations for the Revision of IMO’s GHG Strategy scheduled for summer 2023.

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Last week, civil society groups demanded the IMO commits to halving emissions from ships by 2030 to reach zero by 2040. Immediate action on dangerous, short-term pollutants released from vessels, such as black carbon and methane, can directly eliminate more than 21% of shipping’s emissions already today.

Speaking on Monday at the opening of the MEPC79 session, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim called for alignment and enhanced cooperation among member states in addressing climate change and marine pollution.

“I welcome the strong commitment to finalize the revision of the initial strategy at MEPC 80 and increase the levels of ambition, while considering the needs of developing states. Essential work must be completed to set the path for the decarbonization of the shipping industry, in line with the objectives of the Paris Agreement,” he said.

“I believe MEPC 80, in July 2023, will be a historic moment for IMO to showcase to the world its determined maritime decarbonization strategy.”

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The MEPC meeting will address a wide range of topics including ballast water management issues as well as the establishment of a SOx Emission Control area for the Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking on behalf of the International Transport Federation (ITF) at the meeting Jeremy Anderson, ITF’s Sustainable Transport Lead, urged IMO member states to support stronger action on climate. He joined representatives from the Maritime Just Transition Task Force arguing how with the right certainty from regulators and the right plan, the industry could train or re-train the 800,000 seafarers needed to power the vessels, fuels and technologies for a zero-carbon shipping sector.

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As disclosed, seafarers and other maritime workers want action on climate change, because they are already seeing the impacts of an unstable climate such as soaring temperatures onboard and in the surface water during their voyages. Dockers in Europe this year faced days without work as ports shuttered to a halt due to the heatwaves. River cruise workers have seasons shorter, because rivers are drier than they once were – and that affects them, he said.

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“Every sector needs to do their bit our secure our climate against the instability which threatens our planet and its people,” ITF said. “Our climate is changing. More of us can see it happening with our own eyes. Today was the first day of decent snow in London this year. The snow used to come sooner.”

Meanwhile, criticism is pilling on the IMO’s CII regime which is set to enter into force in less than a month. The carbon intensity rating scheme has been described as ‘not fit for purpose’ posing a risk of doing more harm than good for the environment.

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