The 70th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 70) took place between 24 and 28 October 2016 at International Maritime Organization (IMO)’s headquarters in London.

What are the International Maritime Organization and the Marine Environment Protection Committee?

The International Maritime Organization is a specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for regulating the safety, security and environmental performance of international shipping. It is composed of 171 Member States.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee is one of the five main committees of the International Maritime Organization. It is responsible for all matters within the scope of IMO related to the prevention and control of pollution and emission from ships.

What is the key outcome of the 70th meeting of MEPC?

The 70th meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization met in London between 24 and 28 October, with the following outcome:

Formally adopted a mandatory data collection system for fuel consumption of ships.

Agreed that an initial but comprehensive IMO strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships should be adopted in 2018 .

Set 1st of January 2020 as entry-into-force date of the 0,5% global sulphur in marine fuel cap.

1. Global Collection System

How will the data collection system work in practice?

The adoption of a mandatory data collection scheme is a milestone in the efforts of the IMO to address greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping. Under the global data collection scheme ships over a certain threshold capacity (5,000 gross tonnage and above) will be required to collect consumption data for each type of fuel they use as well as data relevant to energy efficiency of ships (such as distance travelled, service hours at sea and the design cargo capacity for cargo ships).

The aggregated annual data will be reported to the flag state after the end of each calendar year. Having determined that the data has been reported in accordance with the requirements, the flag state will issue a statement of compliance to the ship. Flag states will be required to subsequently transfer this data to an IMO ship fuel consumption database. IMO will be required to produce an annual report to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the IMO summarizing the data collected. Data will be anonymized so individual ship data will not be recognized.

When will the data collection system be ready for implementation?

IMO now needs to develop guidelines regarding the implementation of the mandatory data collection scheme (for instance the verification of the collected data and the management of the IMO ship fuel consumption database by the IMO Secretariat). The guidelines are expected to be approved at the next meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee in May 2017. The global system will start applying in March 2018 which in practice will mean that ships will have to start collecting data for the 2019 calendar year. Reporting of collected data to the IMO on a voluntary basis before this date is also mentioned as a possibility under the adopted scheme.

Is the EU satisfied with the data collection system adopted by the IMO?

The Commission welcomes the adoption of such mandatory data collection system. A global scheme is in line with the approach set out in the European Strategy for low-emissions mobility adopted in July 2016. Global action to reduce emissions from maritime transport is the preferred approach due to the global nature of the sector. At the same time, the global data collection system needs to be sufficiently robust to deliver reliable data. To ensure a reasonable level of robustness, the Commission and the EU Member States will continue actively to contribute to the development of IMO Guidelines required for the implementation of the system.

What will happen to the EU monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) scheme regarding carbon dioxide emissions from maritime transport?

In line with its ambitious climate policy, the European Union adopted its own data collection system already in 2015 (“MRV Regulation”). It applies to ships above 5000 gross tonnage, regardless of their flag, calling at EU ports, from 1 January 2018 onwards. It requires the reporting of a range of data, which includes, inter alia, the elements required under the global scheme. The data reported under the EU scheme will be published by the Commission to provide robust efficiency information to the relevant markets and will not be anonymised.

Since the EU and its Member States have a preference for a global approach, the MRV Regulation contains a clause whereby the Commission must review the EU data collection scheme and, if appropriate, propose amendments in order to ensure alignment with an international agreement. This review will take place once the legal framework for the global system is fully established, including the required IMO Guidelines.

2. Shipping sector’s strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships

What is the significance of the decision to establish such a strategy to the international efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions?

Following the agreement recently reached by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to reduce international aviation emissions and with the imminent entry into force of the Paris Agreement, there is a strong momentum for global action on climate change. The meeting at the IMO agreed on a roadmap towards the development of a comprehensive strategy with 2018 as a milestone for defining  an initial strategy, including an inventory of possible near-, mid- and long-term measures.  This initial strategy will  then be adjusted based on the analysis of the data collected in the measure this is becoming available, with the adoption of a revised strategy envisaged for Spring of 2023.  An initial strategy in 2018 will allow the sector to communicate its progress at the first stock taking under the Paris Agreement pledge scheme.

3. Global sulphur cap by 2020

Why is the global entry-into-force of the 0,5% sulphur limit in marine fuels by 2020 important?

IMO’s decision to lower the global sulphur limit in marine fuels to 0,5% by 2020 will significantly reduce the adverse impacts of ship emissions on human health and represents a substantial contribution by the maritime sector to improve air quality worldwide. Current heavy fuel oils used by ships can have a sulphur content of 3,5% and are among the dirtiests transport fuels in the world. Delaying the lower sulphur cap from 2020 to 2025 as was suggested by a number of IMO Parties and industry groups would have contributed to more than 570.000 additional premature deaths compared to the now approved early entry-into-force date of 2020.

The decision taken by IMO means that the global sulphur cap will be fully in line with the mandatory 0,5% sulphur cap for all EU-waters (outside the North Sea and Baltic Sea which are designated as Sulphur Emission Control Areas (SECAs)) following the latest revision of the Directive on the Sulphur content in Marine Fuels (the ‘Sulphur Directive’) in 2012. Especially for shared sea basins like the Mediterranean and the Black Seas this will also ensure an equal level-playing-field for ship operators.

IMO will now concentrate on further work that will facilitate a safe and effective implementation of the 0,5% requirement by Administrations as well as maritime and oil industries. Proper enforcement of the low sulphur in fuel requirement worldwide will be crucial to ensure compliance by all ship owners and fuel suppliers.  The extensive experience of the EU Member States with enforcing the 0,1% sulphur requirement for ships sailings in the Baltic and North Seas that came into effect in 2015 can serve as an important input to this work ahead. This requirement has also proven to be successful in reducing the sulphur concentration in air in coastal regions in both EU sea regions.

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