Industry and Fossil Fuels Continue to Have Seat at the Table at Latest Shipping Climate Talks


The shipping industry counts for nearly three percent of the world’s emissions, and it continues to grow, yet there is still no climate target to cut pollution from global shipping.

And with industry sitting inside the negotiating room, progress on setting a climate target continues to stall.

The Paris Agreement – now almost two years old – does not directly include shipping. And after 20 years of negotiations at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) countries only expect to set some sort of climate target in 2020 at the earliest.

This week delegates are meeting in London to discuss reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships. This will be followed by high level talks at the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) the first week of July.

Shipping’s international carbon emissions need to be cut by half by 2050 (based on 2012 levels) in order to bring the industry in line with the Pars goal of limiting warming to 2C above pre-industrial levels. Zero emissions are needed by 2080. But this is assuming that the shipping industry’s emissions don’t continue to grow, which is unlikely as it’s a rapidly expanding industry.

Basically, total greenhouse gas emissions from shipping need to peak very soon and then need to decline quite quickly, and stay low (eventually zero) in order to reach this type of goal.

There’s just one problem (which perhaps, just maybe, could explain why it’s taking so long to take action on shipping emissions): industry has a seat at the table.

That’s right, unlike UN climate talks where fossil fuel lobbyists operate in the shadows, the shipping industry gets to have its voice heard right alongside countries at the IMO.

Fossil Fuel Delegates

According to the delegate list seen by DeSmog UK for this week’s talks, there are a number of industry figures who will be in the room during the shipping climate talks. They are attending either as observers or as part of a country’s list of participants.

This includes three representatives of the Brazilian multinational mining corporation Vale which are attending as part of Brazil’s delegation and one from Statoil who is part of Norway’s delegation.

Vale is known for mining coal, iron ore and nickel among other minerals. In 2015, Vale along with BHP Billiton, were responsible for the Samarco tailings dam disaster which is considered Brazil’s worst ever environmental catastrophe killing 19 people and polluting hundreds of miles of rivers.

A lot of the influence also comes from trade bodies which represent oil companies and other parts of the shipping industry such as tankers, bunker fuel, refiners and service providers – they attend the talks as observers.

This includes the Oil Companies International Marine Forum (OCIMF) which has sent five delegates as observers this week. Members of the OCIMF include BP, Centrica, Chevron, Koch Shipping, Lukoil, Shell, Statoil, Total, along with many, many others.

Many of these oil giants have a history of lobbying against climate action. Shell and BP, for example, are the biggest spenders of all FTSE 100 companies, collectively spending around £6 million over the past two years to influence EU and UK policy.

At the IMO, observers can submit documents for review and can participate during the week-long talks. Observers cannot, however, vote on final decisions.

Capping Emissions

A submission ahead of this week’s talks by industry trade groups BIMCO, INTERCARGO, the International Chamber of Shipping and INTERTANKO laid out the industry’s “aspirational objectives” for reducing emissions. The proposal, however, emphasises that there should not be any binding cap on shipping’s carbon emissions.

According to sources, so far this week’s discussions have focused on improving efficiency and about whether a cap on emissions is the way to go. So far no agreement has been reached.

The biggest pushback on establishing a cap on emissions is coming from some Latin American countries, including Brazil, and industry organisations, DeSmog UK has been told, while the EU and small island nations are calling for a stronger climate commitment.

Industry’s strategy appears to be to try and kick issues into the long grass by arguing certain technological solutions aren’t ready to be adopted yet. Or, by focusing on the nuance of the text, industry can try to weaken the list of suggested ways an emissions reduction target could be set.   

These tactics, however, aren’t new. During the Copenhagen UN climate talks in 2009 for example, these strategies were played out by many lobbyists. And ahead of the Paris COP21 climate negotiations fossil fuel companies pushed for business-friendly solutions (by emphasising natural gas as a cleaner fuel option for example).

A Long Road’

But this week is just a taste of what will take place next week when even more delegates and observers descend on London to continue discussing reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The aim is that by 2018 they will have a roadmap and list of options for setting a strategy to reduce emissions.

And if the list of attendees from last October’s session (when they failed to agree a target for emissions) is any indication, there will be even more big fossil fuel players in the room.

Brazil’s team included two representatives from Brazilian petroleum company PETROBRAS and two from Vale.

France had representatives from Engie and Total on its advisory team. Statoil came as part of Norway’s advisory team and Saudi Arabia’s country representative was from state oil company Saudi Aramco. Meanwhile Kuwait’s three observers were all from the Kuwait Oil Tanker Company and the manager of the Korea Petroleum Association attended as an adviser to Korea.

Eight members of the OCIMF attended as observers as well as a member of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, and seven members from IPIECA (the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association) including a representative from ExxonMobil.

But as Bill Hemmings, director of aviation and shipping at Transport & Environment, told DeSmog UK just prior to the meeting: “We need to start talking seriously about targets and what can be done. The IMO is committed to developing an interim strategy by next year  … it’s been a long road but we’re here now, it shouldn’t take 20 years to make progress.”

Photo: Pixabay | CC0

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Kyla is a freelance writer and editor with work appearing in the New York Times, National Geographic, HuffPost, Mother Jones, and Outside. She is also a member of the Society for Environmental Journalists.

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