THE politics of climate change is not much of a spectator sport and the prospect of yet another interminable feature on the inner workings of the International Maritime Organization is unlikely to fill anyone with joy.
But if you are planning to build a ship in the next 10 years, we humbly suggest you read on.
As an exercise in political procrastination and Olympic-level filibustering, last week’s Marine Environment Protection Committee was a resounding success.
Old divisions between developing and developed countries were redrawn, long-winded statements were delivered and the week-long proceedings ended in a protracted technical argument late at night with no interpretation on hand and no consensus.
So far, so familiar. However, this should not be mistaken for lack of progress.
What emerged was something of a gamble on political numbers, but if you cut through the diplomatic posturing, underpinning that move was a relatively robust-looking agreement on the shape of the energy efficiency measures for ships.
The thorny question of how governments will ultimately find a way of implementing the Energy Efficiency Design Index is yet to be answered, but the fact that a solid draft now exists and is being circulated around governments for adoption is an important development that companies should take a careful note of.
Politics aside, the EEDI is a reality that is likely to shape ship design and operations over the next decade. The argument is now less a question of what and more a question of how and when.
At its heart the EEDI is a benchmarking scheme to help ship designers create more fuel-efficient vessels, and together with the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan it forms the backbone of the IMO’s technical and operational measures to reduce CO² emissions from shipping.
While it faces some significant hurdles yet and is still liable to be held hostage to the wider political problem of developing world funding for climate change, the draft text at least offers the industry a reasonably solid indication of things to come.
While the practical questions of emissions trading versus a bunker levy remain too distant to seriously affect detailed operational decisions being made today, the EEDI text is a practical document that can and should be read by shipowners now.
“The market is unsure across the world about what is going to happen on climate change, that is uniform,” Lloyd’s Register environmental adviser Anne-Marie Warris told Lloyd’s List. “But If I were a shipowner, I would bet on this as a good indicator of things to come and make sure I know where I stand”.
Of course it would be premature to declare the EEDI a success, even on a technical level.
The EEDI is effectively a formula used to assess the efficiency of a ship in terms of the energy it uses compared with the goods it transports and this numerical value should be under a specific benchmark level for the type of ship that is to be built.
But, as we have argued on many occasions within Lloyd’s List’s technical pages, therein lies some of the key stumbling blocks.
MEPC members have been battling over points such as how to deal with the fact some ship types are designed to be overpowered and therefore compare unfavourably with others, how the ship types should be defined themselves given that some vessels can be more than one ship type, such as the oil-bulk-ore combination carriers, or some ro-ro vessels, and even the benchmark level itself.
The outcome of such technical debates are ultimately going to colour shipbuilding and design decisions for every shipowner.
While some progress was made last week on the issue of specialist ship types, smaller ships and the question of cut-off sizes for applicability of the EEDI, more will need to be done. But any discrepancies here pale in comparison to the overwhelming political differences that still exist.
Just because it has been put forward for approval does not mean this is a popular piece of legislation — far from it. The fact that the draft text is currently being circulated is entirely down to the technicalities of IMO processes and some fancy procedural footwork, rather than any majority agreements.
Member states remain fundamentally divided over the appropriateness of Marpol Annex VI as the vehicle for the EEDI, which is an argument that is in turn directed by the seemingly insoluble global clash between developing and developed world states over the issue of common but differentiated responsibilities versus the no more favourable treatment approach.
Or to put it in more crude terms — who pays for climate change reduction.
Every form of compromise and approach from high-level diplomatic intervention to the bizarre introduction of a ‘pink paper’ was tried and rejected throughout the week, but none could be found.
So despite the gaping schism within the meeting, governments in favour of circulating the text ultimately invoked the rules that allow any party to Marpol Annex VI, regardless of opposition, to circulate amendments for approval in order to force the issue.
This bold move is a something of gamble. While governments have effectively been asked to consider the text for approval, the opposition is such that many are likely to oppose it when it comes up for review at the next MEPC meeting.
However, the time lag in making this call takes into consideration that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference due to take place in Cancun, Mexico, next month will have considered a number of key issues that could potentially allow IMO member states more flexibility in how they approach this decision.
It also ensures that progress can continue and that the debate is not completely hamstrung by the wider political debate.
Without some significant and unexpected compromise from with the UNFCCC, the call on whether EEDI makes it into Marpol Annex VI is likely to come down to a crude tally of numbers of governments for and against.
That will reveal some interesting fault lines in the wider debate over how the IMO decides upon the even more contentious question of market-based measures.
It will also offer a clear indication of whether the IMO has been seen to progress this issue sufficiently to ward off the looming threat of regional action from the European Commission and satisfy the UNFCCC that it should continue to take the leading role.
Most importantly, however, it will, in due course, offer shipowners some clarity on what regime they can expect to operate in when planning their fleet operations for the future.