IMO MEPC 79: further progress on protecting the marine environment

Written by Heather Ervin
ABS talks about IMO MEPC 79 and what it means for maritime industry.

By Joseph Gardemal, ABS Manager, Regulatory Affairs

The IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) held its 79th session from December 12-16, 2022, with a full agenda reflecting numerous issues of importance to the maritime industry. Chief among these were continued work on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, lowering pollution to water and to air as well as discussions and decisions on pollution prevention.

IMO strategy on GHG emissions

The committee received numerous submissions related to its ongoing revision of the Initial IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships. Member States extensively discussed the revision of ambition levels of the IMO’s Initial Strategy, the 2030 and 2050 revised targets and additional intermediate checkpoints leading up to 2050.

The committee discussed the implementation of a “basket of measures” in the Revised Strategy, to support achieving the reduction goals. The revision of the Initial Strategy will continue to be discussed in the 14th GHG Intersessional Working Group in March 2023 and a Revised Strategy is expected to be adopted at MEPC 80 in July 2023.

That strategy is expected to include or address further enhancements to energy efficiency and carbon intensity; revision/additional checkpoints for levels of Ambition in GHG reduction and proposals for additional formulations of levels of ambition.

Several delegations proposed that the carbon intensity of ships continues to decline through the implementation of further phases of the EEDI and that the CII be reduced 6–7% annually to ensure a 1.5degC-compatible improvement in carbon intensity.

While discussing the development of the revised strategy, numerous Member States expressed support for a basket of measures to reduce emissions, in which those short-term measures implemented earlier will serve to inform and target subsequent mid- and long-term measures.

Approaches to GHG reduction which are being considered for inclusion in this basket of measures include:

  • Short-term measures already agreed (EEXI and CII);
  • Voluntary measures already agreed (Development of National Action Plans on GHG);
  • Global fuel standards and support for uptake of low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels; and
  • Market-based measures implementing a mandatory GHG levy.

Marine pollution

The committee adopted Resolution MEPC.361(79) establishing a new Emission Control Area (ECA) for the Mediterranean Sea, requiring vessels to utilize fuel of maximum 0.10%m/m sulfur content when sailing in the region. The amendments to MARPOL Annex VI will enter into force on May 1, 2024, with a 12-month grace period.

The Committee also adopted three Resolutions containing several amendments to MARPOL which allow States with coastline bordering Arctic waters to meet their obligations for providing adequate port reception facilities for disposal of ships’ wastes.

These amendments acknowledge the infrastructure limitations faced by ports in Arctic regions and provide the option for States to provide adequate reception facilities by means of regional resource sharing arrangements. The implementation of such Regional Arrangements will require the development of a Regional Reception Facility Plan based on existing MEPC Guidelines.

The Committee received several submissions related to further considerations of risks presented by the discharge of Exhaust Gas Cleaning System wastes into the marine environment. Some Member States supported the view that the substances found in EGCS discharge water represented a source of pollution and thus conflicted with certain obligations under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, requiring States to prevent marine pollution and preventing states from transforming one type of pollution to another. Others maintain that EGCS technology can be used under MARPOL Annex VI, and any associated risks studied and mitigated. A more detailed consideration of this matter will be made at an upcoming session of the IMO Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR).

Ballast water management and marine biosafety

The committee agreed in principle to the designation of the North-West Mediterranean Sea as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) to protect cetaceans from the risk of ship collisions, ship-generated pollution and to increase awareness of a critically important area for the fin whale and the sperm whale.

The proposed PSSA is limited by the coastline of France, Italy, Monaco and Spain and includes areas under the jurisdiction of coastal States. The large size and high shipping traffic of this PSSA was acknowledged, but it was also noted that due to the significance of the ecological, socio-economic, and scientific values of the area, several existing national and international protective measures are already implemented in this area.

The Committee also considered several proposals regarding how compliance with the BWM Convention should be addressed for ships operating at ports where properties of the local water quality are not conducive to successful ballast water treatment by the installed BWMS.

The Committee also discussed how ‘challenging water quality’ should be defined, and whether the use of proactive measures should be required for ships planning to attend ports where water quality is historically known to be challenging to their specific BWMS.

In the months ahead, the IMO will continue to advance these and other environmental subjects at the Intersessional Working Group on Greenhouse Gas (ISWG-GHG) and the PPR Sub-Committee, leading up to the next session of the MEPC in 2023.

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