“Almost consensus” of the 81st MEPC meeting on emissions pricing

2024/03/26 at 9:35 AM

The main conclusion of the 81st meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that took place last week was the agreement that charges for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions should be introduced in international shipping by 2027. However, it is “preliminary” and the details of how the fee mechanism will function will be discussed at the 82nd MEPC meeting.

"Almost consensus" of the 81st MEPC meeting on emissions pricing

The new regulations will be included in the revised international Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Although the IMO officially states that this is “a step forward in the legal process of adopting global regulations” set out in the 2023 IMO GHG Strategy on the “medium-term goals” of decarbonising maritime transport, there is still a long way to go to concrete solutions, according to analysts’ comments. As Faïg Abbasov, director for maritime programmes at the federation of EU green organisations Transport & Environment (T&E), remarked the IMO had so far reached “almost consensus”.


The new regulations will concern the establishment of a new global fuel standard and a new global mechanism for setting prices for greenhouse gas emissions from maritime transport. Such assumptions were also adopted in the IMO medium-term strategy. It states that the aim is to “ensure a fair transition to net zero shipping by or around 2050”, i.e. taking into account “different national circumstances”. Previous MEPC discussions “indicated broad support for the development of medium-term measures”, although “details on exactly which approach should be taken are still under discussion,” the IMO says.

Prudent action

Several proposals were submitted. The problem is that it is difficult to make a choice and reach a consensus because the approach of IMO member states varies. From the expectation of adopting extreme measures and their rapid implementation (island states) to evolutionary and time-spread changes (e.g. countries with large fleets of ships). The final assessment will be presented at the next MEPC meeting, which will be held from 30 September to 4 October of the current year. “We will have a pricing mechanism. I have no doubt about it, but we still have to wait,” the IMO Secretary-General Arsenio Dominguez told journalists after the MEPC meeting in London.

For now, MEPC 81 has established several teams and working groups to provide more detailed calculations and proposals. One of the teams is to produce the “Comprehensive assessment of the impact of the proposed medium-term measures on Member States” to be finalised and submitted to MEPC 82.

What was agreed?

On 18 March, MEPC adopted revised guidelines for assessing the greenhouse gas emission intensity over the life cycle of marine fuels (LCA guidelines), known as the “tank-to-wake” approach. They concern formulas for calculating GHG emissions from the source (at the point of fuel production) to the tank or wake (end-user emissions), included in revised Appendices 4 and 5.

“However, this result leaves open the question of GHG emissions from the source to the reservoir, which may result in the cure being worse than the disease,” commented Faïg Abbasov. The point is that the use of “grey” fuels in shipping may be consolidated for a longer period, from LNG and biofuels to other alternative fuels in “grey” form (e.g. hydrogen), i.e. produced from fossil sources, without appropriate incentives or compulsion to use “green” fuels.

More positive is the statement from the World Shipping Council (WSC), the lobbying group representing the shipping lines. “MEPC has agreed on a framework for medium-term measures, including a fuel standard and an economic measure, and established the necessary expert groups, laying the foundations for an agreement that will deliver the net zero target by 2050,” the statement reads.

Other arrangements

Other conclusions from last week’s MEPC meeting approved:

– two new SOx and NOx emission control areas in the Norwegian Sea and Canadian Arctic, proposed to enter into force in 2026;

– new recommendations for the carriage of plastic pellets by sea in cargo containers, covering stowage, packaging and correct transport/cargo information;

– an updated work plan on the development of guidelines for new alternative fuels, including hydrogen and ammonia – as low flash point fuels – and mandatory instruments on methyl/ethyl alcohols;

– a list of regulations and instruments relating to the review or development of the Ballast Water Management Convention,

– a draft action plan to reduce underwater noise from commercial shipping.

Further consideration and final approval of these regulations are expected to take place at MEPC 82.

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