Climate talks split between rich and poor
The International Maritime Organization has a serious problem on its hands: a fundamental difference of opinion over four words of politically disruptive text has divided its member governments, pitting rich against poor.
The diplomatic stand-off over the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, or CBDR, that has emerged in the UN agency is blocking meaningful progress towards effective climate change regulations for the shipping industry.
With the IMO effectively powerless to influence a political debate well beyond its reach as a technical body, it now faces another damaging delay amid growing pressure for immediate action on climate change and a threat of regional action.
The crux of the problem lies not within the IMO, but with the wording of the Kyoto protocol on climate change that underpins the UN approach to greenhouse gas regulation.
Common but differentiated responsibilities, enshrined in the Kyoto text, essentially means that any measures must differentiate between developed and developing countries to reflect their economic circumstances and history.
But with four out of five ships sailing under the flags of developing nations, all governments are also well aware that differing rules for rich and poor nations would cause serious distortions in the industry, encourage shipowners to move their ships to a flag of least environmental cost and render any emissions reduction regime worthless within a matter of hours.
The problem of how to apply the CBDR principle to shipping has long dogged negotiations. IMO insiders had hoped that following the Copenhagen climate talks in December progress could be achieved.
But with little agreement within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, developing countries are still unwilling to give up the CBDR principle inside the IMO for fear of setting a precedent and losing what they understandably view as a key political bargaining chip in the wider debate over international development finance.
The issue came to a head last week at the IMO"s Marine Environment Protection Committee. While slow progress was made on technical and operational measures to increase the energy efficiency of ships, a final agreement proved impossible.
Developing countries repeatedly stated that the CBDR issue remained a fundamental political principle that must be resolved before progress can be made.
The significance of this stand became clear when Chinese delegates refused to accept the formation of a technical group of experts on the grounds that CBDR was not included in the group"s terms of reference.
What should have been a brief technical procedure of the meeting quickly became a political battle ground that is likely to colour future debate in the IMO for some time.
Compromise texts were suggested, last minute rewrites were put on the table and IMO secretary-general Efthimios Mitropoulos was even moved to make a personal intervention, pleading with the Chinese delegation to reconsider its position.
In the event none of this mattered. It was, China"s lead delegate explained, a point of political principle and a state position that was not open for debate.
Without explicit mention of CBDR in the terms of reference, China would refuse to participate or accept the results of the working group. It was a position repeated by several other developing states.
Confronted with this political impasse, the committee"s chairman formed the technical group anyway, backed by a slim majority made up of the room"s developed nations.
It was, in the words of the Saudi Arabian delegation, just another example of what had become the ?tyranny of the majority rule? within the IMO and a sign of debates to come.
Such rhetoric and discord are unusual in the IMO. It operates under a system of consensus for good reason. Without it, the chances of getting 169 member states to implement even the most mundane of technical resolutions in any meaningful way would be virtually impossible.
But when it comes to climate change, the UN agency has hit a roadblock. Votes are very rarely used within IMO meetings and are generally considered to be divisive. But as Mr Mitropoulos pointed out during the MEPC, sometimes decisions have to be made on a majority basis.
The ultimate value of this approach remains to be seen, however. Without the involvement or support of developing states within the IMO, it is hard to see how any practical progress towards climate change regulation is going to be possible.
The technical experts group will go ahead, but if a significant minority of the world"s governments boycott the meetings and refuse to accept its findings, any decisions they make will be a hollow victory and of questionable validity in practice.
Several member states have already made it clear that the market-based measures under discussion at the IMO are considered to be ?a non-starter? and will continue to be so unless the CBDR principle is clearly addressed.
Realistically, this means that until progress can be made with the UNFCCC meetings, CBDR will continue to be raised by developing states as a barrier to progress within the IMO.
While IMO insiders hope the next UNFCCC meetings to be held in Bonn and Cancun could offer some clarification, few believe the CBDR roadblock will be dismantled any time soon.
* MEPC fails on emissions deal
THE Marine Environment Protection Committee failed to agree on mandatory application of technical and operational measures designed to regulate and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from international shipping.
Despite extensive debate in the meeting the committee concluded that more work was needed.
Although the meeting was able to prepare draft text on mandatory requirements for the Energy Efficiency Design Index for new vessels and on the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan for all ships in operation, the committee noted in particular, that, among other things, issues concerning ship size, target dates and reduction rate in relation to the EEDI requirements all required finalisation.
* Marpol amendments
THE MEPC adopted amendments to the Marpol Convention to formally establish a North American Emission Control Area, in which emissions of SOx, NOx and particulate matter from ships will be subject to more stringent controls than the limits that apply globally.
Another new Marpol regulation, to protect the Antarctic from pollution by heavy grade oils, was also adopted. These amendments are expected to enter into force on August 1, 2011.
* Ballast water resolution
THE MEPC addressed issues relating to the implementation of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships" Ballast Water and Sediments and adopted a resolution that ?requests? member states to ?encourage? the installation of ballast water management systems on new ships.
The resolution also urges countries that have not already done so to ratify the convention. To date, it has only been ratified by 22 countries and needs 30 signatories before it can enter into force.
THE committee continued its work on developing guidelines for safe and environmentally-sound ship recycling.
Once adopted, the guidelines will assist ship-recycling facilities and ship operators to begin introducing voluntary improvements to meet the requirements of the Hong Kong International Convention for the Safe and Environmentally Sound Recycling of Ships, which was adopted in May 2009.
*Caribbean garbage date fixed
THE MEPC agreed to establish May 1, 2011 as the date on which the discharge requirements for the Wider Caribbean Region Special Area under Marpol
Annex V Regulations for the prevention of pollution by garbage from ships will take effect.
This region, which includes the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea, was designated as a special area under Marpol Annex V in July 1991.
Most countries in the region have now given notice that adequate reception facilities are provided in most relevant ports, so that the special area status can be made effective.
* Harmful substances update
THE committee approved proposed amendments to replace the text of Marpol Annex III Regulations for the prevention of pollution by harmful substances carried by sea in packaged form, with a view to subsequent adoption by MEPC 61.
The amended text is aimed at bringing the rule up to date with the mandatory International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code, specifying that goods should be shipped in accordance with relevant