Progress reported in UN-backed efforts to reduce pollution, emissions from ships

14 October 2008 –

The United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) has reported major progress on efforts to cut polluting and global warming emissions from ships, achieve more environmentally friendly recycling of vessels and prevent contamination from harmful organisms in ballast.

Under amendments to the so-called MARPOL (marine pollution) accords unanimously adopted by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) earlier this month, emissions of sulphur oxide (SOx), nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate matter from ships will be progressively reduced.

“The MEPC maintained momentum on the issue and made substantive progress in developing technical and operational measures to address such emissions, including the development of an energy efficiency design index for new ships and an energy efficiency operational index, with associated guidelines for both,” the agency said in a news release.

According to a consensus estimate for 2007, CO² emissions from international shipping amounted to 843 million tons, or 2.7 per cent of global CO² emissions, as compared to the 1.8 per cent estimate in 2000. In the absence of regulation, such emissions were predicted to increase by a factor of 2.4 to 3.0 by 2050.

MARPOL Annex VI Regulations for the Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships entered into force in May 2005 and has so far been ratified by 53 countries, representing some 81.88 per cent of the gross tonnage of the world’s merchant shipping fleet.

The MEPC discussed whether the application of measures to reduce or limit greenhouse gas emissions from ships should be mandatory or voluntary for all States. Several delegations spoke in favour of limiting mandatory reductions to those countries, mainly the more developed industrial nations countries listed in Annex 1 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

But several other delegations said the regulatory framework should be applicable to all ships, irrespective of the flags they fly, noting that as three-quarters of the world’s merchant fleet fly the flag of countries not listed in Annex I, any regulatory regime would be ineffective if it were made applicable only to Annex I countries.

On the issue of harmful aquatic organisms in ballast water, the MEPC adopted guidelines for ballast water sampling and approval of ballast water management systems as well as arrangements for responding to emergency situations involving ballast water.

It also agreed on a guidance document on minimizing the risk of ship strikes with cetaceans, such as whales. With regard to recycling, ships will be required to carry an inventory of hazardous materials, specific to each ship.

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