MEPC 79: IBIA observations and involvement

MEPC 79: IBIA observations and involvement

GHG dominated the agenda as expected. IBIA focused efforts on a range of practical industry matters. IBIA’s IMO representative, Unni Einemo shares her observations from the latest MEPC session.

IBIA had a hectic week at the 79th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79), as we needed to be in several places at once. Apart from plenary, IBIA also took part in relevant working groups (WGs) and a drafting group finalising text for regulatory amendments. These all met and worked at the same time, in parallel with plenary, so it was a challenge, but I had a good team of IBIA members involved to help out.

The big-ticket item for MEPC 79 was discussions on the revision of the IMO’s GHG strategy. As I predicted ahead of the meeting (see this link), some progress was made but no decisions. Discussions in plenary were largely a repeat of what we observed at the 13th session of the Intersessional Working Group on GHG Emissions (ISWG-GHG 13) in the week preceding MEPC 79.

There are two main discussion points on the subject: the level of ambition for reducing GHG from shipping, and the “basket of measures” we will need to support that ambition.

At present, a large share of IMO Member States want GHG emissions from shipping to be phased out by 2050, but there is significant opposition from Member States that are concerned this is not realistic and could have disproportionately negative impacts on developing countries. There are also diverging views on adopting interim GHG reduction targets in the period between 2030 and 2050.

This subject needs to be resolved in time for MEPC 80 in July next year, when the IMO is due to adopt a revised GHG strategy. Progress therefore needs to be made at ISWG-GHG 14 (March 20-24) and at ISWG-GHG 15 in the week prior to MEPC 80.

Regarding the “basket of measures”, we see convergence of views toward combining market-based measures (MBMs) with technical elements in the form of a GHG Fuel Standard (GFS).

The most favoured types of MBM seem to be a bunker levy scheme putting a price on carbon emissions, or CO2 equivalents (CO2e) to cover other GHGs such as methane and NOx, potentially combined with a rebate system to reward early movers.

For the GFS, there is majority support for this standard to take well to wake (full lifecycle) emissions into account. It means it looks likely we will get a well-to-wake GHG intensity fuel standard, phasing in requirements for ships to use a growing portion of fuels that emit less CO2e than fossil fuels.

IBIA supports this direction of travel, but we are concerned about the complexity of documenting well to wake emissions. We take part in the Correspondence Group on Marine Fuel Life Cycle GHG Analysis which is tasked with developing lifecycle assessment (LCA) guidelines to support this policy, which are needed in time for MEPC 80. Documentation requirements outlined in the draft go far, far beyond anything we see today and it seems clear that only professional certification bodies will be able to provide the level of detail required from the supply chain to document well to tank emissions.

MEPC 79 also had a discussion about green corridors, which split the room. While they are seen as a useful tool in the energy transition, many felt this was not something IMO should regulate, but rather encourage voluntary cooperation between relevant stakeholders.

MEPC 79 had a brief discussion of proposals related to onboard carbon capture technology. There are two core issues: the technical perspective; and how captured CO2 can be accounted for under MARPOL Annex VI as a GHG reduction measure. On the latter point, a question is how to make sure the captured CO2 is correctly handled and doesn’t just end up being released back into the atmosphere. The subject was deferred to MEPC 80 for further discussion, but given the need for MEPC 80 to adopt a revised strategy and make progress on the “basket of measures” it seems unlikely that meaningful progress will be made on this during 2023.

For now, the GHG debate is very political, but moving in the right direction, so let’s turn our attention to some of the many other items on the agenda at MEPC 79.

Amendments to MARPOL

As expected, MEPC 79 adopted amendments to MARPOL Annex VI designate the Mediterranean Sea, as a whole, as an emission control area (ECA) for sulphur oxides, reducing the sulphur limit in from 0.50% to 0.10% for ships operating within the ECA. The amendments will enter into force on 1 May 2024, while the requirements take effect on 1 May 2025. IBIA played a small part in this going through by commenting, earlier in the adoption process, that we were confident of sufficient availability of compliant fuels.  

Following more complex discussions, MEPC 79 adopted an amendment to MARPOL Annex VI regarding information to be included in the Bunker Delivery Note (BDN). This will bring in a new requirement to document flashpoint on the BDN; either the flashpoint temperature measured in Celsius, or a statement that flashpoint has been measured at or above 70°C. This new requirement will enter into force on 1 May 2024. IBIA was active in plenary and the drafting group on the subject, highlighting unintended consequences and potential confusion. For more information, please refer to this link.

UI on synthetic fuels

MEPC 79 approved an extension of the scope of the Unified Interpretation of regulation 18.3 of MARPOL Annex VI concerning the use of biofuels set out in MEPC.1/Circ.795/Rev.6 (more info on this link) to include synthetic drop-in fuels. IBIA was instrumental in the discussion on the subject. For more information, please refer to this link.

Bunker licensing

Two documents on the subject were discussed in a working group (WG). One of them was MEPC 79/INF.24 from IBIA and BIMCO. There is no appetite among most members states for making bunker licensing schemes mandatory, but there seems to be growing acceptance that they can improve market conditions. IBIA made a statement in plenary during consideration of the WG report. For more information, please refer to this link.

Exhaust gas cleaning systems (EGCS)

A number of issues were discussed at MEPC 79, some of which will be sent to the next meeting of the IMO’s sub-committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) for further consideration. These relate to working out suitable EGCS discharge emission factors, a vexed subject with diverging views. More controversially, MEPC 79/5/3 suggested to completely ban EGCS discharges, arguing this cause pollution that could contravene the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).  The latter met with many objections and saw only limited support, but the Committee asked the IMO Secretariat to provide legal advice to be presented at MEPC 80.

IBIA made a statement during these discussions, supporting arguments in MEPC 79/5/1 from CESA regarding how to arrive at EGCS discharge emission factors, and for a call for submissions proposing emission factors to describe the methodology and how data have been used. “Decisions on emission factors should be evidence-based, and as such we need transparency about the evidence provided,” IBIA stated.

We also commented on the paper suggesting EGCS discharges may be in contravention of UNCLOS, highlighting that while the submission expressed concerns about pollution from EGCS discharges, a range of studies have concluded that the risk to the marine environment and marine aquatic organisms are in the acceptable range, or even negligible from both short-term and long-term perspectives.

Black carbon emissions impacting the Arctic

Two submissions from environmental NGOs urged IMO to speed up efforts to reduce the impact of on the Arctic from black carbon (BC) emissions.

IBIA made a statement to plenary on the subject: “We thank the cosponsors of MEPC 79/5/5 and MEPC 79/5/6 highlighting the urgency of reducing BC emissions in the Arctic.

In this connection, we note the deliberations in the CG on air pollution, which we participate in, and look forward to the subject being thoroughly discussed at PPR 10.

In the meantime, we reiterate our full support for Resolution MEPC 342(77), in particular the final paragraph that urges members states and ship operators to voluntarily use distillate fuels or other clean alternative fuels or methods of propulsion that can help reduce BC emissions in the Arctic.

While some delegations objected, there was majority support in the Committee to forward both submissions to PPR 10, which will meet in April 2023.

Biofuels and LCA guidelines

Several papers on biofuels, both from previous MEPC session and new submissions, were considered. Many of these dealt with concerns about compliance with the NOx Technical Code, most of which have been resolved by the unified interpretation to regulation 18.3 of MARPOL Annex VI that was approved by MEPC 78, as set out in MEPC.1/Circ.795/Rev.6 (more info on this link).

The other subject related to how biofuels can support shipping in reducing GHG emissions. Current IMO regulations only recognise tank to wake emission factors, meaning biofuels offer little or no advantage at present.

Most delegations speaking at MEPC 79 put faith in this being addressed under the Guidelines on life cycle GHG intensity of marine fuels (LCA Guidelines), which should be available for approval at MEPC 80.

However, India has proposed in MEPC 79/7/18 that MEPC 80 should also adopt a resolution at the same time that any biofuel manufactured from recycled sustainable biomass, seed oil from tree species that do not compete for food and fodder, and certified as a sustainable fuel as per the LCA guidelines, be assigned zero CO2equivalent value for use in the IMO fuel consumption data collection system (DCS) and Carbon Intensity Indicatro (CII) regulations.

MEPC 79 invited interested Member States and international organisations to consult with the delegation of India in their further consideration of developing a draft MEPC resolution on the uptake of sustainable biofuels for shipping at MEPC 80.

It remains to be seen if the LCA Guidelines will be ready in time for MEPC 80, but it is clear that India and others are keen to ensure that sustainable biofuels will become recognised as a way to reduce GHG emissions from shipping as soon as possible.

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