London Calling

Clean Vessels Program Manager, John Kaltenstein went to London, England to attend the 58th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).  Click here to read about Friends of the Earth and our history with the IMO.  Click here to listen to a BBC radio segment entitled, "Shipping industry CO2 emissions far higher than planes" with Eelco Leemans, the coordinator of Friends of the Earth International's IMO delegation.

"Mixed Bag from London"

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ship ShapeComing into its meeting this week, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) faced enormous pressure to approve substantial revisions to an international agreement regulating ship air emissions--MARPOL Annex VI--and to make headway on the development of greenhouse gas (GHG) reducing measures for ships.   The 168-member organization has maintained strong consensus support for the revisions, and the final text is currently being drafted by a working group.  The adoption of Annex VI, along with the establishment of a coastal ship pollution control zone, will allow the U.S. to cut air pollution significantly from ships as early as 2010.

On the other hand, a surprisingly nice day in London didn't prove auspicious for work on the GHG front.  Developing and developed countries are at loggerheads over respective responsibilities to reduce GHGs.  Both sides are citing competing international principles to govern the IMO's work on the subject.  However, with ships accounting for approximately 3 percent of carbon dioxide produced worldwide, and with international shipping expanding annually, progressive carbon dioxide reductions are needed--and they are needed now.  Currently, only a few countries have put forth legitimate carbon dioxide reducing measures and proposals for ships that will lead to actual reductions.  Other countries seem to already have their sights set on the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen for resolution of the issue.  Unfortunately, in light of the pace of work on this subject and the sharply drawn positions, as it stands, it's unlikely that much progress will be made.  We'll see what tomorrow brings...

IMO Gets it Right .... Finally

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Friends of the Earth International DelegationMembers of the Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Earth International delegations let out a collective sigh of relief this afternoon when the IMO approved a major amendment to MARPOL Annex VI, an international agreement governing air pollution from ships.  On a day that was filled with plenary sessions, working groups, and presentations, the IMO finally took a step towards cleaning up the historically under-regulated shipping industry by approving the Annex VI revisions.  Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Earth International have been fighting for years to push the IMO to regulate the ever expanding shipping industry and its deadly air pollution emissions.  The IMO finally realized that it had to take steps to govern ship air emissions as a means of potentially forestalling a patchwork of individual regulations developed by countries and states severely polluted by the shipping industry.  The Annex VI approval is a long-postponed wake up call for the shipping industry which has historically fought any attempts to regulate it.

When the Annex was finally approved today, great applause broke out in the hall where Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Earth International members -- who were practically spilling out of the designation area at various points -- were on hand to witness this historic occasion.  The U.S. delegation was also happy with the outcome, having led the working group spearheading the difficult revisions.  In light of the monumental achievement won today, Friends of the Earth and Friends of the Earth International delegation members had to celebrate the occasion.  Since we are in London, tea was served immediately! 

Looking forward, the Friends of the Earth delegation will most likely encounter a harsh reality on Friday when the delegation attends the plenary session in which debate will continue on the issue of greenhouse gas reduction measures for ships, an issue which is unresolved and appears to be deadlocked.  Although we are likely headed for another drawn out battle with the shipping industry on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ocean-going vessels, today's action demonstrates that tenacity, creativity, and dogged work eventually pays off in a cleaner environment.  Hopefully, some progress on the topic will be made on Friday as the IMO week-long meeting draws to a close, providing important groundwork on this issue for the next IMO meeting in the summer of 2009. 

Victory at the IMO! ... and Next Steps

Tuesday, October 14

Friends of the Earth strongly welcomed the IMO’s formal adoption of revisions to MARPOL Annex VI last Thursday, which will bring about a substantial reduction in air pollution from ships.  Currently, the average sulfur content of ship fuel is 2.4 percent, with a maximum allowable limit of 4.5 percent.  Under the revisions approved last week, ocean-going ships will be required to use marine distillate fuel with no more than 0.5 percent sulfur content (5,000 parts per million) starting in 2020 or 2025 – depending on the results of a fuel availability study.  This fuel requirement signifies the phase-out of extremely polluting bunker fuel, which literally comes from the bottom of the oil barrel and is more than 1,500 times dirtier than the diesel fuel used in trucks and buses. 

LondonEven more promising is the possibility of a North American emission control area (ECA) that would mean stricter control of ship air emissions.  Presently only two ECAs exist in the world, one in the Baltic Sea and one in the North Sea.  Within these geographical areas ships must use fuel with a sulfur content at or below 1.5 percent.  However, the new revisions to Annex VI will permit even further restrictions in ECAs: 1.0 percent in 2010 and 0.1 percent in 2015.  Fully implemented ECAs will be able to achieve massive air emissions reductions from ships on the order of 80 percent, 85 percent, and 95 percent for nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and sulfur oxides, respectively.  A North American ECA would considerably improve air quality in portside and coastal communities in the U.S., where thousands die prematurely each year from ship air pollution.  Friends of the Earth will be advocating for the U.S. and Canada to submit the most environmentally protective North American ECA proposal possible to IMO by spring 2009.

In addition, Friends of the Earth and the Friends of the Earth International delegation will answer London’s call once again at the July 2009 IMO meeting to press for significant greenhouse gas reduction measures for the shipping sector.