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Society
| 04/28/16

Global maritime emissions plan blocked by BRICS, US

TCE

The United Nations agency responsible for shipping has failed to reach agreement on a roadmap for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from marine transport – deferring a decision until it meets in October.

Meeting this week in London, the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO’s) marine environment protection committee was blocked by the United States and emerging economies of the so-called BRICS countries.

Since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, both aviation and maritime emissions have been excluded from international climate treaties due to their international nature, leaving emissions regulation up to the UN bodies governing the two sectors.

In the wake of the global climate agreement reached last December in Paris, hopes were high that the goodwill would continue in these other areas. Most states and even the lobbying association representing shipping companies backed efforts to regulate emissions.

According to a 2014 analysis for the IMO, maritime activities represent a tiny proportion of global GHG emissions—just 2.7 percent for international shipping, about the size of Germany’s emissions, and 0.6 percent for domestic shipping and fishing. However, like aviation, the sector is one of the fastest growing sources of emissions, and is forecast to climb 50-250 percent by 2050, depending on the rate of economic growth.

But the US and BRICS countries, in particular China, argued that to develop a plan for an emissions reduction target before data from the sector had been gathered was premature.

While some may criticise the opponents for blocking progress, the complaint of a lack of data is a common one.

PICS Fellow Alex Schare studies the carbon footprint of various modes of transport in BC and he also describes a paucity of official data. No emissions data for traffic is released; only statistics covering freight tonnage. This is a problem because this hinders emissions calculations as it does not tell researchers where the cargo is headed. Worse, the collection of even these figures was discontinued in 2011-12. The provincial GHG inventory offers an overall value for marine emissions but this is not differentiated by freight or passengers, making it difficult, for example, to assess the carbon efficiency of ferry transport.

One solution, suggests Schare, is making ferry terminals more easy to access by public transport. They are difficult to access without a vehicle, but because ferries can carry many more people than cars, passenger capacity goes largely unused.

Nevertheless, Schare’s rough estimates for ferries suggest that they are the least carbon efficient mode of passenger transport in the province, largely as a result of poor occupancy—an average of 23 percent full across the fleet. The aggregate emissions of a ferry crossing don’t change much depending on how full the boat is as people weigh so little compared to the ship. But on a per person basis, if the occupancy is only 40 percent, the emissions are double what they would be if the ship were 80 percent full.

One solution, suggests Schare, is making ferry terminals more easy to access by public transport. They are difficult to access without a vehicle, but because ferries can carry many more people than cars, passenger capacity goes largely unused.

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