Representatives of the shipping industry, with the support of several countries, have submitted a proposal to the UN to charge a climate-related levy on fossil fuels for the first time.
However, proponents of climate change are concerned that the levy is too low and will divert attention from more effective ways to reduce carbon dioxide from shipping, which is a growing problem.
The proposed levy, of $ 2 (£ 1.40) per tonne of fuel used by ships, would raise about $ 5 billion over the next decade to fund research and development of carbon-free ships. It was presented on Wednesday by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body that manages global shipping, the International Shipping Chamber and several other industry representatives, with nine governments behind it.
Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, said the levy would allow “cracking” by producing funds to build prototype ships or the infrastructure needed to supply ships with low-carbon energy. There are serious logistical difficulties with the decarbonisation of the shipowner: for example, an electric ship will need the equivalent of 10,000 Tesla batteries a day to cross the Atlantic. Hydrogen is the second proposed fuel, but Platten said current estimates would require 60% of the world’s renewable energy production to produce enough hydrogen to supply ships.
“We want to demonstrate to the wider society that shipping is committed to net zero [emissions]Said Platten. “This would provide significant resources that we would use to get to zero as quickly as possible.”
The nine countries, representing about 40% of the world tonnage of a merchant shipping company, that have applied to sponsor proposals at the IMO are Greece, Japan, Switzerland, Singapore, Malta, Nigeria, Liberia, Georgia and Palau.
Green experts said the proposal would divert attention from initiatives that would have a much greater impact on ship emissions.
“Countries should not apply for this,” said Aoife O’Leary, director of the Environmental Protection Fund. “This is a very small measure and it is too late. There are other better options if [the shipping industry] I want to be truly ambitious. “
She said that several countries that support the proposals were “flag registers”, which they earn by licensing foreign-owned ships or which they keep a history of, and which resisted regulation.
Faig Abbasov, director of shipping Transport & Environment, said many shipping companies are already investing in research and development. He contrasted the plans with what he said were more effective EU proposals to include shipping in its emissions trading scheme and proposals to be submitted to the IMO for a global carbon tax on shipping.
“This imposition is not big enough to be able to change behavior,” he said. “The industry is trying to use this as an excuse to unleash efforts to include shipping in the EU emissions trading scheme. There are other proposals for true carbon prices that could be submitted to the IMO, but in an attempt to prevent them, the industry is reducing the bandwidth available in the IMO to focus on other proposals. “
The IMO has spent more than a decade discussing ways to reduce emissions, with little tangible results. In 2018, the UN agency adopted the goal of reducing the intensity of emissions from ships by 40% compared to the level from 2008 to 2030 and halving total emissions by 2050. However, so far there is no agreed way to achieve the goal.
Shipping transports more than 80% of global trade and accounts for about 2.9% of global carbon emissions. Emissions are projected to more than double by 2050 if no measures are taken to reduce carbon. Ships run on heavy oil that produces large amounts of carbon dioxide and other pollutants like sulfur.
The IMO will discuss ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from shipping at its next key meeting in June and at a further meeting in London in November coinciding with the vital UN climate talks, the Cop26 summit, in Glasgow. Discussions on reducing the climate impact of shipping were scheduled for last year in London, but had to be postponed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.