How the Paris Climate Accord Could Affect the Shipping Industry

Having been excluded from the Paris Climate Change Conference, the shipping industry is now left to come up with its own standards on reducing carbon emissions, or potentially be subject to a hodge podge of rules from countries around the world.

Left Out

Although there was language specifically related to the shipping industry in drafts of the actual Paris Climate Accord, the final agreement left the industry out. The 190 nations that signed the accord will measure carbon emissions only within their own borders, with little regard for cargo ships and planes that travel the globe.

Prior to the Paris Climate Summit, many within the shipping industry were pushing to be included in the pact and were disappointed that shipping was cut from the final agreement.

“The political will failed,” said Marie Bruun Skipper, Vice President of the Danish Shipowners Association. “It’s grotesque to have an industry directly asking to be included in a climate agreement but which is not allowed to.”

Universal Regulations

Proponents of including the shipping industry in the Paris Climate Accord argued that the most effective way to cut greenhouse gas emissions would be with a clear set of international guidelines that would follow a ship from port to port.

“We are operating in a global industry that calls for a global solution,” said John Kornerup Bang, Chief Advisor on Climate Change at A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, the parent of shipping giant Maersk Line. “The last thing we want to see is a series of regional regulations. The effects will not be level and they will not be effective because it is so easy in this business to move fleets around.”

Without universally recognized carbon emission guidelines, shipowners not willing to invest in ‘greening’ their fleet could easily begin sailing under the flag of a country with lax emissions standards.

Not Waiting Around

Being left out of the Paris Climate Accord does not mean the shipping industry won’t be joining the fight against climate change. While International shipping only accounts for around two percent of manmade CO2 emissions, the industry plans to move forward in doing its part to fight climate change.

“The Paris Agreement represents remarkable progress and builds on the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, which itself was a significant step forward,” said Koji Sekimizu, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization. “The absence of any specific mention of shipping in the final text will in no way diminish the strong commitment of IMO as the regulator of the shipping industry to continue work to address greenhouse gas emissions from ships engaged in international trade.”

Already the International Maritime Organization has set mandatory energy efficiency standards for new ships and standards for measuring ship emissions. In the summer of 2015, The Marshall Islands reinvigorated discussion about shipping and climate change when it pushed for even tougher limits on carbon emissions.

“It’s a matter of survival for us,” said Tony de Brum, Minister of Foreign Affairs for The Marshall Islands. “We cannot address climate change without looking at all the components that are contributing to the problem of emissions.”

European shipowners plan to meet in the spring of 2016 to discuss their own regulations. Time will tell if this is the start of regional and national carbon emission rules.

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