Putting the ball in the IMO’s court

Putting the ball in the IMO’s court

In recent years, many of the IMO regulations – ballast water and emissions reductions are good examples – have set limits and deadlines that available technology has not been able to meet. The result has been the tarnishing of an industry that serves world trade and economic development and diminishing respect for the IMO by supra national bodies such as the EU and by environmentalist NGOs.

This week, a joint proposal by BIMCO, WSC and IPTA to MEPC 71 was announced. It makes some radical proposals about how future reductions in GHGs and regulations around them should be achieved. In essence it puts the ball firmly in the IMOs court as to determining what is possible before committing to targets that are almost impossible to reach.

Four objectives are laid down, facilitating reductions in emissions while maintaining transport services that support sustainable economic development across the world; discovering and developing commercial applications for suitable technologies: pursuing substantive and continuing reductions consistent with the introduction of new technologies and fuels; and including SOx, NOx and PM as targets along with GHGs.

The proposal’s ideas of how to achieve these ambitions is for the IMO to establish an International Maritime Research Board (IMRB) with a mandate to direct and fund research and development of new and improved marine propulsion systems, electric generation plants, fuels, and ship design; periodically review and modify EEDI standards to promote the introduction of increasingly carbon-efficient tonnage in the maritime fleet; and reduce air emissions from the existing fleet through investments in efficiency-enhancing technology.

The proposal is a little light as to how the funds available to the IMRB would be raised but elsewhere it did suggest that the IOPC Fund management structure could be a model for the IMRB. The IOPC of course receives funds from two sources; shipowners through P&I cover for liabilities rising and contributions from cargo owners.

There are probably many among the shipowning fraternity that would prefer to contribute to a fund that is engaged in facilitating research into future technologies for their industry than to other market based measures that will merely raise vast sums to be handed to some nebulous body for distribution to developing nations’ governments and which would end up being used for questionable purposes. Whether cargo owners could be persuaded or convinced to contribute is another matter. It should be possible to point out to them that as the beneficiaries of shipping services, it is after all they themselves who are responsible for any pollution caused.

The proposal has merits and is convincingly argued, if successful it could be just the thing shipping needs to improve its image and at the same time finance the technology advances that are needed for the future. How the IMO will handle it will be very interesting to see.