Earthjustice Calls on U.S. to Address Ship Pollution

International Maritime Organization fails to make progress on climate pollution


Sarah Burt, Earthjustice, (510) 550-6700

The non-profit, environmental law firm Earthjustice called on the American government to unilaterally strengthen regulations governing climate change pollution from ships. The call comes after a meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) failed to make significant progress in its attempts to agree upon climate protection measures.

Numerous proposals for reducing global warming pollution from ships were presented at the meeting, but agreement was stalled by objections from developing countries including China, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. IMO decisions are generally made by consensus.

Earthjustice, on behalf of a coalition of environmental groups, has worked to compel the U.S. to address climate pollution from international transport sectors such as shipping and aviation. Sarah Burt, an attorney with the international program of Earthjustice, attended the IMO meeting in London. Here is her take on the proceedings:

“Global warming is a global problem, to which a global solution would be ideal. But the United States should not wait for strong mandatory requirements by the IMO when that body seems unable to act. Rather, we should push forward with domestic regulations that address a significant portion of the greenhouse gas emissions at issue. If the other nations object to the United States’ domestic action, we should challenge them to catch up to and surpass us in addressing this problem. Once they’ve done so, our regulations may no longer be necessary. But until then, domestic regulation is the best tool we’ve got.“

Rules to require ocean-going ships to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions were discussed this week by the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the IMO, a UN body that regulates international shipping, including pollution from ships.

On the table was a U.S. proposal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by requiring mandatory energy efficiency standards for ships and allowing trading of efficiency credits as a means to ensure compliance. Nine other proposals for market-based measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions were discussed, including a greenhouse gas fund established by the purchase of emissions reductions credits, a port state levy on emissions, and a global emissions trading scheme (cap and trade) for international shipping.

These measures are opposed by developing countries including China, India, Saudi Arabia and South Africa on the grounds that mandatory sector-wide measures to reduce greenhouse gases from ships would run counter to the principle of common but differentiated responsibility that is central to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The developing countries are also concerned that their economies would be disproportionately impacted by such measures.

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