MEPC and diplomacy: Is this how it gets done?

A day at MEPC

There was a near party atmosphere as delegations arrived at the IMO for the start of one of the most important meetings of the IMO’s marine environment protection committee’s history.


A dozen or so protesters had decided that they would prefer to have a carnival atmosphere out on the street to meet nearly 1500 participants arriving for this 80th MEPC meeting, telling delegates to ‘dance for the oceans’.


But the meeting in the main committee hall soon turned somber as the chair kicked off proceedings, with opening statements from developing countries, the UNFCC secretariat, and the UN secretary general all pointing to the need for the delegates to agree to ambitious new strategy and measures.


And then the member states began offering their opening statements, and if there is anything at the IMO meetings that needs to change, it is this.


The delegations know that everyone is waiting for the working group on greenhouse gas measures to be sent out to continue the work, from last week and earlier, on finding agreement on the revised greenhouse gas strategy.


But even at the end of the day, following tens of very similar statements that all followed well known policy directions, the working group has still not been given instructions to start, with the MEPC chair reeling off more than 20 delegations wishing to make statements at the start of the second day.


During the breaks people suggested that if the member states are serious about making progress this needs to stop, or be curtailed. While it is seen as very diplomatic for each member states to make statements, the sheer number and perceived urgency has certainly not been reflected.


Does he have any impact? UN Secretary General addressing MEPC80 “I urge you to leave London having agreed a Greenhouse Gas Strategy that commits the sector to net zero emissions by 2050 at the latest”


However there is a sense of urgency with delegates from member states huddled in the corridors, in the cafeteria and on the many sofas dotted around the delegation areas, and even in some of the smaller meeting rooms. This is most likely compromises are going to be made, certainly not in a plenary locked in a diplomatic Groundhog Day.


The statements were often split into certain political groups, the SIDS and LDC, then the developing countries such as most of the South American countries, and then developed ones.


From Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Fiji, Tuvalu, Vanuatu,  the group of countries labelled as LDC’s or SIDS focused on what needs to happen quickly. Phrases like,

 “This week is the last chance, for the IMO to remain legitimate”. “It must rise to the moment, and it is well off the mark”. “We know the path, we know the targets, science based, that have been agreed and vetted and proven”. “Industry wants this, but it is the member states letting us down”. “The world is watching us. This is an enormous once in a lifetime opportunity.”


The South and Central American countries were all also singing from the same hymn sheet too, using similar phrases to raise their objections to the idea of a universal levy for shipping, pointing to how it could damage their trade, given a levy could disproportionately impact countries that have trade with remote markets, and adding there is the risk to food security.


And while those against the levy were all using the same words in the plenary, they were not offering alternatives, maybe that will be what they will go into the working group to do, when they get there.


In terms of broad stokes, the developed countries support the fuel standard and a levy idea, with a view to setting targets of 37% reduction by 2030, 96% by 2040 and net zero by 2050, so called science-based targets.


But the 2030 and 2040 dates are now being referred to as “indicative checkpoints” rather than targets.


For IMO secretary general Kitack Lim this MEPC meeting, regardless of its importance to the industry, is his final MEPC and he may be looking at how the decisions made would be his legacy. It would be great if he could say that a few delegates mentioned.


In a press briefing on the first day he reiterated the need to find both economic and technical measures to be found to meet whatever the final strategy goals are.


He likened them to two legs, upon which the IMO’s decarbonisation strategy can run. There will be an economic measure, he predicted, though was less certain what is would be which would balance with technical measures of the CII, EEXI and EEDI.


The goals of the week remain the same, namely a revised strategy with a way to achieve those goals in the strategy, and with an impact of how any measures chosen, whether a levy or feebate etc, will impact member states, notably developing countries such as the SIDS and LDCs.


But this will only happen if the delegations can run though the sheer repetition of their opening statements quickly.


Incidentally, the day ended as colourfully as it began though when a drinks reception in the delegate area was invaded by Poseidon (or was it Neptune?) and two scantily clad women painted like blue mermaids, who laid on the floor of the delegate lounge to play dead, only to be almost completely ignored until the police showed up and slowly escorted them out of the IMO without a fuss.

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