Only voluntary GHG measures progress at MEPC79

Member states reaffirmed their commitment to a revised IMO greenhouse gas emissions strategy by next July, but no mandatory measures were adopted at this meeting.

At last week’s intersessional working group, IMO member states put their cards on the table in negotiations over revising greenhouse gas emission targets for shipping. This week the Marine Environment Protection Committee ended with a strong sense that those seeking inaction may hold the winning hand.


Only two voluntary resolutions were adopted, aimed at encouraging member states to consider collaboration across the shipping value chain. They gave a cursory nod to green corridors and similar concepts, although even these could not be named explicitly, with less ambitious states worried about the impact any incentives would have on multilateral trade and route competition between vessels.


The wide and varied ambition levels and timeframes – including contested references to a just and equitable transition – suggested during the intersessional group remained unconsidered by the committee. Instead, contradictory proposals were rammed into a messy draft of the revised strategy. The final report of MEPC79 noted that the draft merely “represented the Chairʹs reflection of the status of the discussions” and had not been considered by the committee.


That lack of progress means there is a mountain to climb to reach consensus on the strategy before the deadline of MEPC80. Just two intersessional groups remain before then, and a variety of delaying tactics are being deployed to bog down the group, including states insisting that the strategy needs to be viewed ‘holistically’ – meaning that nothing can be agreed until everything is agreed. Already the group’s workload is so demanding that the plenary committee is shifting important work away from it, including deliberation on the role of onboard carbon capture, which must now wait until July for committee-wide treatment.


Nonetheless the committee reaffirmed its commitment to that timeline in the final report, also reaching important agreement that the revised strategy would have a “strengthened level of ambition”. That will come as little consolation to the small island developing states who, as the Marshall Islands delegate put it earlier in the week, once again leave the committee without a clear and ambitious target for tackling climate change.

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