At the meetings being hosted in London on Monday, the future of the world’s sixth largest polluter – global shipping and its 1 billion tons of carbon emissions each year – were to be finalized. President Macron and France have appeared to change their stance and are taking a position of no emission enforcement until 2030, which will blow the world through its global carbon budget.
President Macron had previously taken a very public stand on climate and biodiversity issues. However, he was criticized by his former Environment Minister who resigned live on radio in 2018, and accused the 42 year old French President of putting economic interests above that of the planet.
Next week’s crunch UN talks are being held at the UN shipping agency headquarters, the IMO, to set global shipping carbon emissions for the next decade. Although France is ranked 19th in the world in terms of carbon emissions, it has strong influence over the world’s 6th largest carbon emitter – global shipping – that emits three times as much carbon as all of France every year.
According to environmental groups, such as Ocean Rebellion, shipping emissions are 100 times more polluting than the fuel allowed on roads. Each cabin on a cruise ship emits 100 times more emissions than a land-based hotel room (380,309 kg carbon dioxide a year, equal to the weight of a Boeing 747 airplane, for each room). When idling in port, cruise ships produce more Sulphur pollution than 5,000,000 cars or 138,500 trucks.
The Paris Agreement originally called for a 1.5C target for the planet, but due to last minute political compromises, settled for a 33% less ambitious target of 2C change. If the Paris Agreement had not been in place, the world was heading toward a temperature rise above 4C. UN scientists believe the Paris Agreement is still not strong enough and the world needs to keep the planet within 1.5C to avoid extinction of all coral reefs by 2050 and irreversible planetary warming within decades.
Emissions evasion: how global shipping evaded the Paris Agreement
Global shipping industry was already seen as a pariah industry. It was one of two industries that opted out of the internationally agreed upon Paris Agreement – the other being aviation.
2020 was when the Paris Agreement was going to come into force with nationally agreed upon targets for carbon reduction.
Global shipping – that had opted out of Government-imposed carbon targets – felt pressure from investors and environmental groups and three years later was forced to create a voluntary climate agreement for shipping in 2018, which some in the industry called a ‘historic climate deal for shipping.’
At the time, the UK shipping minister hailed the agreement as “a watershed moment with the industry showing it is willing to play its part in protecting the planet”. However, small island states at the front lines of climate change such as Pacific Island nation of Vanuatu were not satisfied but hoped the deal would lead to tougher action in future.
It is this deal that France is trying to break next week, with much weaker controls over global shipping emissions, that mean shipowners would effectively not have to change much to their existing operations at all.
France’s position next week
As part of the ‘2018 Climate Agreement for Shipping,’ the talks next week were set to agree how carbon emission targets would be enforced.
Industry self regulation has led to problems in the past, such as the 2016 Volkswagen Emissions scandal. Volkswagen installed a device in 8.5 million cars, that turned out to have a backdoor software hack, that allowed emissions data to be manipulated and show lower emissions than it was actually producing.
Speaking in 2018 after the $30 billion fine (including costs) issued by US regulators and after Volkswagen’s shares fell by over one third, the boss of VW America, Michael Horn said, “We’ve totally screwed up.”
But it gets worse.
Peak oil in shipping by 2023
In order to meet the Paris Level Agreements, carbon dioxide needs to peak by 2023.
There are a range of ways this can be achieved, including by greater R&D investment by shipping. Global shipping is one of the lowest investors in R&D, innovation or technology of all the major industrial sectors, which explains why its emissions and efficiency lag so far behind other sectors.
To meet this 2023 peak target, enforcement needs to begin in 2023 or before (why would any industry believe that starting enforcement after a target date would force an industry to meet that target sooner). That is a pretty straightforward explanation.
However, under a revised French position for next week, France is calling for enforcement to begin next decade – in 2030. This would allow shipping to continue emitting over 1 billion tons of carbon a year, that grows 10% year on year. For comparison, France emits 330 million tons a year.
So by the time the French proposals are in place and enforcement starts in 2030, global shipping’s emissions would have risen 20% to an additional 200 million tons a year in just 10 years (not fallen, as all other sectors have been mandated to do). This is almost the same as adding the emissions from another Egypt every year (with a population of 100 million) into the world within 10 years.
The absurdity of this position is clear to understand. In order to meet the 1.5C target, the world has to almost halve global emissions by 2030. Allowing the world’s sixth biggest emitter to increase emissions effectively renders the entire agreement void.
Global shipping is going in the opposite direction to the Paris Agreement. Just over 60,000 ships emit more carbon dioxide than every country (including France) apart from China, India, USA, Russia, Japan. Allowing global shipping to increase their emissions over the next decade means that it becomes nearly impossible for the world to remain within the carbon budget agreed to in the Paris Agreement.
The fact that the sort of fuel being used in shipping is so toxic and effectively a subsidy for the entire oil industry (as it is the waste material from the refinery process), makes the pollution even worse, causing catastrophic health and environmental issues around the world.
The three steps that Macron should have been taking
President Macron’s proposal for next week breaks the 2018 agreement in three significant ways.
This also reveals where the greatest traction could be made to achieve emission targets. Not doing so would be seen as extremely reckless.
1. Bolder carbon dioxide reduction before 2023
The 2018 agreement said that countries need to ‘prioritize measures that can achieve additional carbon dioxide reduction before 2023.’ France’s proposal increases carbon dioxide before 2023, not reduces it. Voluntary efficiency measures have already been pushed to the limit. Shipping has been shown that it cannot be trusted to regulate itself – just look at the spate of shipping and oil spill disasters that have happened over the past few months alone.
If President Macron was serious, he would have called for a clear target that by 2023 there would be a net reduction in emissions. This would have created the culture change and focus needed in boardrooms across the global shipping industry to hit a legally mandated target. If companies are unable to meet this, then they should not be in the shipping business. Simple as that.
2. The satellite revolution will allow global shipping to hit peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2023
The 2018 ‘Climate Agreement for Shipping’ calls for countries to ‘peak their carbon emissions as soon as possible.’ France is proposing to only start enforcement in 2030, meaning emissions continue to rise. It is possible to achieve peak carbon dioxide emissions within three years, but only by actually monitoring emissions on ships (rather than checking paper based certificates, which was one of the main issues with the Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius).
The proposal being supported by France to install a software device in shipping is fraught with risk, as we saw with the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
Just last year, this software device (called ‘EEDI’ under the EEXI proposal – deliberately confusing acronyms, I know) was highlighted as having safety flaws for ship navigation (see page 22 of the European Commission and UCL produced report), and there has been speculation that such a system may have been on board the Wakashio that hit the island of Mauritius causing the oil spill in August (the shipowners were approached but have not commented on this).
The report specifically mentions, “For some ship types, a further strengthening of the EEDI could result in underpowered ships which cannot maneuver safely in adverse weather conditions. This appears to be the case in particular for large tankers and bulk carriers beyond Phase 2 of the EEDI.”
This is the policy that President Macron is betting on next week.
The actual solution would be to implement policies around operational efficiency i.e., the actual (not theoretical) monitoring and reduction of emissions, in the same way that this can be monitored in newer cars.
There will be more satellites put in space in the next few years, than the previous 60 years – by over five times. Four companies alone, Elon Musk’s Starlink, Jeff Bezos’ Amazon Project Kuiper, the British Government’s OneWeb, and Telesat, have announced plans to launch 46,100 satellites within five years, compared to just under 9000 objects sent to space according to the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs.
These satellites will transform safety in global shipping, and both the new connectivity and satellite cloud servers would open up a shipping efficiency revolution unthinkable today.
The technological revolution in cars and drones have shown how far those two modes of transportation have come in the past decade. Shipping is the oldest form of transport and has lagged decades (if not centuries, if you look at maritime law) behind. Similar levels of innovation in maritime is only possible with serious regulations and strictly enforced carbon emission targets. There is no other way.
3. Achieve carbon dioxide reduction on a pathway aligned with the Paris Agreement
The 2018 climate agreement for shipping is very clear that any proposal for shipping must be aligned with the Paris Agreement. Having enforcement targets only come in at 2030, shows just how far off the Paris Agreement such a proposal will be.
If President Macron was serious about the Paris Agreement, he would have ensured all France’s shipping submissions were aligned with enforcement coming in by 2023 (only three years behind the rest of the world where enforcement should have kicked in this year).
U-turn on French shipping giant, CMA-CGM
By taking a position that goes against the Paris Agreement, it appears that President Macron is performing a u-turn on French shipping giant, CMA-CGM.
The once state-run shipping company is now the fourth largest container ship operator in the world, with 502 ships and over 110,000 staff. In 2019, it earned over $30 billion revenue and has a presence in 160 countries.
It currently operates the largest container ship in the world (described as a megaship), the Benjamin Franklin, which is one of very few ships of that size allowed in US Ports. If these ships were to rupture (as the Wakashio did in Mauritius in August), the amount of oil they carry would be larger than many of the oil tankers of the past, given that ship sizes have increased 1500% in the past 50 years. CMA-CGM was victim of a major cyber hack that was particularly concerning a fortnight ago.
Less than a year ago in December 2019, the CEO and Chairman of CMA-CGM, Rodolphe Saadé, had called on President Macron to take a bolder stance on green fuels. President Macron had responded that he strongly supported this.
By backsliding on this commitment to align shipping with the Paris Agreement and the clean fuels pledge, President Macron is also undermining the French shipping giant from hitting their stated sustainability target to be in line with the Paris Agreement for all the voyages that they travel (not just within the European Union, which has stricter emissions rules).
Role of Total
As soon as President Macron had made the announcement with CMA-CGM, the French oil giant, Total, signed a ten-year ‘sustainable’ marine fuels agreement with the French shipping company.
So two major French companies have made public commitments about hitting sustainability targets.
However, the French President himself wishes to lower standards by 75%, and then delay enforcement during the critical decade, by moving back enforcement from 2023 to 2030 for global shipping.
This would be a double death-knell for the Paris Accord.
Japan undermining climate talks
One major question in global shipping has surrounded the role of Japan, who France appears to have partnered with.
Japan wields an inordinate amount of influence in the UN shipping regulator, the IMO. A senior Japanese Government official, Hideaki Saito, is chair of the powerful environmental committee that sets the climate targets. He has attracted considerable controversy over climate commitments, by being accused of using a range of administrative devices to undermine talks.
A higher carbon standard would make the Japanese shipping fleet particularly vulnerable, given their older, more polluting profile.
Given large shipping interests in Japan, the country has tried to undermine climate targets in shipping. Together with Norway and Denmark – two countries highly dependent on oil and shipping – they have been driving the software patch solution (EEDI) rather than investing in serious ways to reduce emissions.
Norway and Denmark: Europe’s ‘enfants terrible’ in shipping emissions
The world’s biggest shipper, AP-Moller Maersk’s headquarters is in Denmark. Its market capitalization ($33 billion) is around 10% that of the Danish GDP ($350 billion). It wields significant influence over the state and the economic fortunes of Denmark are tied to the quarterly profits of the shipping giant.
Denmark also hosts world’s largest shipowner association, BIMCO, are also headquartered just outside Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen. This may explain Denmark’s position to undermine climate commitments at the IMO next week, which would harm its shipping interests. Again, profits before planet.
With Norway’s heavy dependence on oil, Denmark’s dependence on Maersk’s profitability and Japan’s aging shipping fleets, this shipping trio will find themselves on the wrong side of any climate agreement aimed at shipping.
Combine this with 70% of global shipping registered in just six ‘flags of convenience’ countries – Panama, Liberia, Marshall Islands, Malta, Singapore and Hong Kong – and a list starts to appear of which countries may be trying to actively undermine global shipping climate commitments, and reasons why.
Questions over Macron’s role in Wakashio oil spill in Mauritius
President Macron’s green credentials have taken a hit recently in shipping incidents around the world, most notably with the oil spill in the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius, next to the French territory of La Reunion.
When Mauritius first appealed for support over the oil spill caused by Japanese shipping giant, Mitsui OSK, operated iron ore vessel, the Wakashio, President Macron was the first to respond via twitter, saying on August 8 that whenever biodiversity is in danger, there is an urgency to act and that France is here.
However, he sent Sébastien Lecornu, the French Minister for Overseas Territories.
Lecornu arrived in Mauritius, and did not consult any of the civil society leaders who had been strongly protesting the Mauritian Government’s handling of the oil spill (over 100,000 had marched in the streets).
Rather than saving biodiversity, the Mauritian Government implied that it was French experts who advised the Mauritian Government to sink the vessel. Within days, over 50 whales and dolphins had shown up dead on the shores of Mauritius, despite warnings in advance that the boat was being sunk in a whale nursing area.
The location of the sinking has been kept a secret amid fears that it had broken several international laws, prompting ocean explorer, Dr Sylvia Earle, to call for the sunken vessel to be removed from the seafloor and returned to its owner.
There has been no comment from any French official on the sinking of the Wakashio since August 24, raising even more suspicion about their role and lack of transparency.
Controversial UN agency hosting shipping’s climate talks
There has also been growing controversy and concern about an international coverup happening in Mauritius with serious lapses by international organizations such as the IMO and the ITOPF in the oil fingerprinting that should have been conducted straight after the oil spill.
This has thrown into question the very credibility of the IMO to be setting and enforcing its own shipping rules. In frustration at the lack of progress being made at the IMO, the EU Parliament voted to include maritime CO2 emissions in the EU carbon market from 2022, following criticism that shipping is the only sector to not face emissions reduction targets.
This is what makes next week’s climate negotiations for shipping so precarious.
It was these talks that needed strong leadership, and it appears that President Macron has walked away from that.
With pressures of the climate crisis increasing around the world, putting trust in a rogue UN agency – the IMO – that is yet to learn what that word means, is perhaps a step too far for the next generation. Global shipping believes it is too big to fail, but it has.
Now may be the time for a more effective and manageable arrangement of regional emission controls.