A ship
28 May 2019

IMO: measures to reduce the impact of maritime transport

France upheld its determined ambition to reduce the impact of maritime transport on the marine environment during the 74th meeting of the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) Maritime Environment Protection Committee, held in London this May. Although not all results were equal to this ambition, they are still encouraging as far as the next round of negotiations is concerned.
Major decisions were taken during the IMO's environmental session, on such subjects as the fight against air pollution and the dumping of plastics into the sea.

In particular, States adopted the most recent texts, set to come into force on 1 January 2020, on worldwide reduction in the sulphur content of marine fuels (the “global cap”: one seventh of the present standard) across all seas and oceans. A fundamental measure for the world fleet's environmental transition.

Paraffin residues, discards of plastics and scrubbers… some decisive progress made

States officially prohibited the discharge of paraffin residues into the sea. Industrial paraffin pollution along the French coastline is relatively frequent, and sometimes has major economic consequences for the municipalities concerned.

The question of ships' fume scrubber discharges is now very much part of the international debate, as France wanted it to be. At the Republic's initiative and with the support of the European Union's Member States, a study is set to be launched in the coming months in order to assess such discharges' impact on the environment. France will ensure that discussions are undertaken with a view to deciding on concrete measures once the study's results have been published in early 2020.

On the question of plastic waste, States adopted a strategy and timescale for reduction of discards in the marine environment coming from fishing gear and fallen containers.

France also ensured that work would continue on reducing emissions of black particles in ships' exhaust smoke. These “black carbon” particles settle on Polar ice caps and capture the sun's rays, so speeding up climate change. France wants to see ships that sail these waters using light fuels and equipped with particle filters.

Finally, France officially presented its plans to create a low-emission zone in the Mediterranean.

Decarbonisation of maritime transport: results remain unsatisfactory

Results are rather more mixed as regards reduction of ships' CO2 emissions. Following the strategy adopted by the IMO in April 2018, negotiations reached an impasse on adoption of short-term measures enabling stabilisation of emissions and a start to be made on their reduction. Although a number of countries expressed reservations with regard to the French proposal to regulate vessels' speed, the subject is still very much on the agenda for future discussions. France is therefore going to continue working on the question in partnership with other States, in view of the new round of negotiations set to take place in November 2019.

France is also sorry to see creation of a permanent workgroup on CO2 postponed to the next meeting of the Committee in March 2020. This decision is stalling the momentum generated in 2018 and sends the wrong signal on international determination to make swift progress on a subject of major importance to the planet.

There has been progress in some areas, however: a method for assessing the impact of future measures on the most vulnerable States was adopted, and more ambitious energy efficiency goals for certain categories of new ships are set to come into force in 2022.