Urgent Measures Needed to Cut Carbon Emissions
Commercial ships are responsible for about 1 billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions on an annual basis or 3 percent of total emissions. Experts explain that if vessels were a country, it would be the world’s sixth biggest polluter. Unless urgent action is taken, shipping greenhouse gas emissions are forecasted to reach up to 130 percent of their 2008 levels in just three decades.
1997 Kyoto Protocol
The Kyoto Protocol set targets for industrialized economies and nations to reduce their carbon emissions and slow down the onset of global warming. While targets vary by country, the US committed to cut emissions by 7 percent while EU Member States pledged to reduce emissions by 8 percent. While the EU has been keeping pace most of the time, major polluters such as China and the US generated enough emissions to offset any of the progress made by EU Member States.
The Kyoto Protocol has clauses on emissions from shipping and international aviation. In 2016 IMO was delegated to continue efforts under the Kyoto Agreement to reduce emissions from bunker fuels. Yet, the International Maritime Organization has been long criticized for implementing weak measures with regard to international freight forwarding which produced mixed results at best.
As a result of pressure exerted by small island states which are vulnerable to sea level rises, in 2018 IMO set a goal to cut global greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2050. Since then, stakeholders have accused IMO on multiple occasions for adopting ineffective short-term measures.
At the latest meeting of the organization, member states committed to cut carbon emissions from commercial ships by 2 percent a year by 2026. Yet, experts warn that even if states reach the set targets, the measure will not have a significant impact on the emissions curve. According to analysts, an annual reduction of 6 – 7 percent is required to bring global emissions down as per the 1.5C global warming limit. Urgent action is required or a 10 percent annual reduction will be needed in just a few years.
The pandemic also slowed down and hindered negotiations to reduce emissions. In 2020 levels fell significantly due to restrictions and lockdowns that hit a heavy blow on international freight services. But while emission levels fell by 17 percent, the cumulative effect on concentrations has not been significant.
Negotiations have also been slowed down due to conflicting proposals. The International Chamber of Commerce proposed a $2-tax per tonne of bunker fuel. Pacific Island nations put forward a proposal for $100 per tonne which countries like India and South Africa opposed. EU Member States generally agree that carbon pricing is required but not in the form proposed by Pacific Island states. Emerging economies, in particular, are concerned that carbon tax in some form or another will make exports more expensive.
Going forward, one promising solution is to replace fossil fuels with hydrogen and thus cut emissions. Hydrogen fuels do not produce sulfur oxides and carbon dioxide and are cost-competitive at the same time.