COVID-19 should not hinder implementing environmental regulations, says DNV GL

IMO headquarters. Credit: IMO

The road to full maritime decarbonisation should not be left out of focus during the COVID-19 pandemic, DNV GL analysts, who spoke at a DNV GL webinar on 22 April, warned.

“The COVID-19 crisis has surpassed environmental regulations as a hot topic in the media,” said Anne Moschner, director communications at DNV GL Maritime. “Even though the IMO is currently at a standstill, there are unquestionably busy times ahead given the new and stricter greenhouse gas and energy efficiency regulations on the horizon.” All meetings of the IMO that were planned to take place until mid-June have been postponed owing to COVID-19.

“There has been a lot of talk about a 50% reduction by 2050. Note that this is just a pitstop on the way to fully decarbonise ships within this century – 2050 is just halfway to the end goal,” said Erik Nyhus, director environment at DNV GL Maritime. To meet this deadline, all the short- to medium-term regulations currently awaiting discussion at the IMO need to be implemented fully, he stressed.

Tore Longva, principal consultant at DNV GL Maritime outlined the measures due for discussion at postponed IMO working groups and its Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting, that were expected to be approved and adopted by the end of 2020. These included; an energy efficiency design for existing ships (EEXI); imposing mandatory design improvements for all ships; a proposal to expand the ship energy efficiency management plan (SEEMP); and finally, the setting of mandatory emission-reduction targets on all operational emissions.

While the global population and media is understandably focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, following the EU elections in 2019, there is a renewed focus on environmental concerns. This trend is driven by the European Green Deal, which aims for a climate neutral Europe by 2050. Nyhus explained that the deal sets as an ultimate political goal for the full decarbonisation of shipping by 2050. “That doesn’t mean there are regulations in place yet driving in that direction, but an overarching goal of full decarbonisation as soon as possible is high up on the EU agenda,” said Nyhus. As such, the EU is calling for further acceleration of the IMO’s emission reduction targets.

The hard line that the EU is drawing is fuelled by what Nyhus called a “profound scepticism” of the IMO on behalf of many EU member states, with the shipping’s regulatory body perceived as slow-moving and industry-dominated. Whether this is an unfair evaluation or not, the EU is developing other green policies that it expects to be applied by the IMO. One proposal involves creating an emission-control area for the Mediterranean Sea, creating a Sulphur cap of 0.10%, which is supported by all Mediterranean states (aside from Syria due to the internal political situation). The EU expects that this will enter into force in 2024.

The EU wants shipping to become part of its European Trading System for carbon emissions. However, this has the potential to cause complications at the IMO level as EU regional systems and regulations will have to be taken into consideration when drafting international legislation.

“Once the European Parliament has reached an agreement with the council and the commission on its goals for emissions, then in practical terms for operators, there is the potential for two parallel reporting regimes being established when it comes to the EU and IMO,” Nyhus warned.