News - picture
Copenhagen green light for EU ship ETS

Copenhagen, 19th December 2009. The failure of COP15 to progress the issue of GHG emissions from shipping should be seen as a green light for the EU to push ahead with an emissions trading scheme for ships visiting EU ports.

In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol handed responsibility for emissions from international shipping to the UN’s International Maritime Organisation (IMO) but in the 12 years that followed not one single binding measure has been agreed. Emissions from international shipping have grown by more than 85% since 1990, and if left unchecked are projected to double or triple by 2050. Studies show that there is a huge potential for the industry to reduce its emissions but it will not do so on its own and without a financial incentive.

It was hoped that the Copenhagen summit would provide guidance to IMO on targets, scope and the use of finance raised by the sector, so that measures for shipping could be fast tracked in 2010. Instead the outcome of the meeting has nothing new to say on these key issues and does nothing to resolve the conflict between the UNFCCC’s principle that only developed states should make emission cuts and the IMO’s traditional approach of treating all ships equally.

Global measures agreed through the UNFCCC or IMO are preferable to avoid carbon leakage and maintain a level playing field for the industry, but future work on global measures at IMO is now likely to be hindered by the same disputes that have held up progress for the last 12 years.

The failure in Copenhagen makes it clear that the only way to address this fast growing source of emissions in the short-term is via regional measures, and the EU should now get on with its plans for including shipping in an EU emissions trading scheme.

Photograph by Robert van Waandern/