ISWG GHG 13 at IMO: The optimist’s view

There's always good news and bad news from an IMO meeting: It depends who you listen to.

You may be excused for thinking that not a lot has come out of the intersessional meeting on greenhouse gases from shipping, that has taken place at the IMO, but what has happened could be significant in making what has to happen in the future, happen quicker.


To understand this we have to look at this less from a speed of policy decision making perspective, and more from a human perspective.


First, this was five days directly before MEPC, where many of the same people in the room for the ISWG will also be in the room next week.


During next week’s MEPC one can expect some of the many unresolved “critical” issues that have not been fully addressed in the intersessional, to be discussed in special working groups away form the plenary, maybe with the same attendance.


There is also another intersessional meeting expected between MEPC 79 (this next one) and MEPC 80 in June 2023 where final decisions are due on the increased levels of ambition for shipping’s decarbonisation.


Secondly for many in the room it’s their first time back in numbers and even their first time ever – since the last fully attended meeting at the IMO headquarters there’s been a number of shifts in national policies by member states, so there’s bound to be some catching up, especially from the many countries where governments have changed and policies have therefore been realigned.

There’s also the national pressures to align UN policies: Can countries demonstrate that their COP commitments and those of other UN bodies are aligned to the same goals?


So one of the first developments from the intersessional has been in the way that the impact of potential market based measures on member states can be made, reported and assessed.


Yes, it’s a bureaucratic exercise, but as the market-based measurers are developed their impact on countries, on member state GDP and fleets, is needed, as well as ideas on how to react to any impacts that are negative.


This is particularly true for least developed countries and small island developing states, with a number saying that they have the potential to be more negatively impacted by some proposals than benefiting.


Once this issue is sorted out, and a structure/process clearly developed then the measures can be compared and assessed, and the ambition potentially strengthened with a belief that this is going to be achievable.


In terms of how the market-based measure proposals and the strengthening of the ambition, i.e. when shipping should partially and then fully decarbonise and by when, are still under discussion.

Reports from inside the intersessional are that the existing clusters of aligned positions have not changed: The art of diplomatic compromise is not to give ground too early, and no doubt the corridors of the IMO are where some mutual back scratching is quietly ongoing.


But we know that there will be change, simply because there’s enough societal demand for it and given growing stakeholder pressure will increase. This may not always be only about shipping, bilateral agreements may be brought forward for trade growth realising they could also help with diplomatic sticking points.


After this week’s intersessional comes another week of hall talks and diplomatic deliberations, then another week of it in early 2023 before Junes meeting of the marine environment protection committee when an optimistic will hope for all the member states to finally agree on something ambitious and effective.

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