What is this meeting and why is it important?
This week is the 74th meeting of the marine environmental protection committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and it represents one of the best hopes of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from a large and growing sector.
Based in London, the IMO is the UN agency with responsibility for the safety and security of shipping and the environmental impact of ships, and the only organisation bringing all the world’s nations together to regulate marine transport.
Shipping accounts for at least 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which may not sound a lot but is greater than the UK’s total: if shipping were a country, it would be the sixth biggest in terms of emissions share. And it is growing fast – shipping could produce 17% of global emissions by 2050, if left unchecked. About 90% of the world’s trade is carried by sea.
Even more significantly, those emissions are particularly harmful because they are mostly the result of burning heavy, pollutant-ridden fuels that are usually banned or subject to regulation onshore because of their toxic effects. Ship fuel produces sulphur, which contributes to acid rain; ships burn more than 3m barrels a day of residual fuel oil, with a sulphur content more than 1,000 times that of petrol for road vehicles. The dirty fuel also releases large quantities of black carbon – soot, made up of unburned particles