Shipping industry protests call for tax on emissions; plane emissions soar

By Benjamin Hulac | 10/16/2015 08:00 AM EDT

In a brief released this week, a think tank division of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development warned of rising emissions from the shipping industry — greenhouse gases could climb 50 to 250 percent in the next 35 years, according to the group — and implored the industry to act.

Emissions from the maritime shipping industry, a little more than 2 percent in 2012 — the majority of which came from bulk, container and tanker ships — are rising and may account for 14 percent of global emissions in 2050, said the International Transport Forum, part of the OECD.

"The greenhouse gas emissions of shipping are considerable," the ITF said. To reach a 2-degree-Celsius trajectory, the industry must halve its carbon emissions by midcentury, according to the ITF, which endorsed a $25-per-ton carbon tax on the shipping sector.


"Instead, they are set to rise substantially," the group’s brief reads. "The industry needs to act."

The International Chamber of Shipping, a global trade group representing about 80 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, bristled at the notion of a carbon tax, responding that it would prefer a tax on fuel rather than an emissions-trading market or "other complex alternatives that would distort global shipping markets."

"While shipping may currently have CO2 emissions comparable to a major OECD economy, it is inappropriate for the ITF to propose that the industry should be treated like an OECD economy," Peter Hinchliffe, the group’s secretary general, said in a statement.

Why a ‘slowdown’ policy doesn’t work for ships

Formal policies of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change are based on the idea that industrial nations, not emerging ones, should lead the effort to slash emissions. In 1992, diplomats encapsulated that notion in a now-seminal sentence: "The parties should protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities."

"Shipping is no different, especially in view of its vital role in the movement of about 90 percent of global trade," the chamber said, referring to that famous U.N. sentence.

The Kyoto Protocol delegated the regulation of ships’ emissions to the International Maritime Organization, a U.N. agency. The IMO’s latest salient measure to limit greenhouse gases is a policy that would lower the levels of sulfur allowed in shipping fuel in 2020. Sulfur hexafluoride, used in manufacturing, is a greenhouse gas (ClimateWire, March 9).

IMO officials have also pushed energy efficiency regulations for ships and advocated "slow-steaming" measures, in which operators slow their vessels to lower emissions and save fuel. That slowdown method, however, provides little incentive for ship owners because the savings typically flow back to the companies managing the vessels, not the owners.

"If civil society isn’t pressuring governments and sectors," Mark Lutes, senior global climate policy adviser with WWF International, said on a call yesterday morning, it will "take much longer" for the shipping and aviation industries to cut their emissions to safe levels.

While trade and emissions slowed during the global recession, shipping emissions globally are on par with those of some countries, such as Canada, Japan, South Korea and the United Kingdom, and greater than most nations.

Plane emissions rise steadily

The majority of the world’s ships are registered, or "flagged," in developing countries and strategically located nations, often not in the countries they most frequently serve. Companies commonly register vessels in Panama, Greece, Cyprus and the Marshall Islands, among other countries, even though far richer economies and governments generate the bulk of supply and demand for international trade.

That phenomenon makes it "impossible to link ships to certain countries," Lutes said.

Referring to the aviation and maritime shipping businesses, Lutes said, "The E.U. is the main protagonist," adding that "the other developed countries are sort of ambivalent about it."

The Kyoto accord also selected the world’s top regulator of plane emissions — the International Civil Aviation Organization, another U.N. agency — but did not regulate emissions from either planes or ships.

Plane emissions constitute 5 percent of global gases and are rising 2 to 3 percent annually, according to Andrew Murphy, aviation policy officer at Transport & Environment, an advocacy group headquartered in Belgium. And shipping emissions have jumped 70 percent since 1990, according to T&E.

When E.U. policymakers included flights to and from member nations as they established the current E.U. carbon-trading market, there was some blowback from nations outside the bloc.

"There were threats made of trade wars," Murphy said yesterday. "China made various threats of canceling orders with Airbus."

In June, in a cautious statement, U.S. EPA announced it is planning to regulate airplane emissions through Clean Air Act provisions. U.S. aircraft release about 30 percent of planes worldwide, EPA said.