ISWG GHG 13 at IMO: The pessimist’s view

Three out of five days of the intersessional working group ahead of MEPC were taken up by prepared statements from delegates.

It was meant to be the forum for key negotiations on shipping’s greenhouse gas emissions ambition. Instead the thirteenth IMO Intersessional Working Group on Greenhouse Gas Emissions (ISWG-GHG) has fulfilled a mainly secretarial role, cramming contradictory revision proposals onto a single ‘draft’ that will be sent to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) next week to sort out.


With just five days to find a way forward, the group was hampered by a full three days of prepared statements from member states, leaving little time for dialogue. As a result, the group will send forward a document to MEPC that considers virtually all proposals, ranging from retaining current targets to significantly higher ambition.


The wider MEPC forum will now need to consider the full range of proposals. Already overburdened with a broad range of negotiations, it is likely send a dedicated drafting group away early next week to whittle down the options.


The task of compiling opinions into one document has administrative value and will ease future negotiations, but the lack of clear progress in any direction has left some observers frustrated.  But there were signs of fruitful discussion in other areas.


The basket of measures by which shipping will reach whichever target it sets is unlikely to include an emissions trading scheme. A proposal from Norway for was not accepted by many delegates, meaning that any market-based measure is likely to come in the form of a carbon or fuel levy. That is a useful step, but clarity on how, when and at what level any levy will be executed is many steps away.


There was also a wide agreement to focus any measures and targets on the gasses named in the Kyoto Protocol. This includes carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane, but excludes black carbon. That omission will frustrate environmental campaigners, who argue that eliminating black carbon could reduce shipping’s climate impact by more than 20%.


There remain just two more MEPC meetings and ISWG meetings (though more may have to be scheduled) before the final revised ambition is to be published at the end of MEPC80 in July next year.

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