Negotiators have two basic options on the table for controlling greenhouse gases. One is a tax per ton of bunker fuel that can be invested in a greener environment somewhere else on Earth. The second is a cap-and-trade system for the maritime sector.
Both plans have their critics, said Bryan Wood-Thomas, vice president for environmental policy at the World Shipping Council. The council is hoping its proposed new Vessel Efficiency System might break the impasse.
“As we looked at this discussion, you have a carbon tax proposal, and an emissions trading system which has not been well-defined,” Wood-Thomas said. “When you get down to it, efficiency is the essence of the issue.”
Slow steaming is one way to be more efficient, but there are others, such as cleaning the propeller, periodic checking of anti-fouling systems, and cleaning the hull. If a vessel is bound for a permanent place in the slow lane, owners could even swap the prop for one that’s optimized for the slower speed, Wood-Thomas said.
The more efficient the ship, the less greenhouse gas it emits into the atmosphere. The VES would encourage cleaner emissions by setting efficiency standards for new and existing ships, and allow owners to meet them through a combination of new technology and basic changes in operation. This way, compliance becomes a business decision based on a ship’s age and adaptability to new technology.
“There are a number of options for older vessels to improve their efficiency,” Wood-Thomas said. “One of the barriers to perception that we face in the industry is that if I have an older vessel, there’s very little I can do to make it more efficient, so I’m going to be stuck with paying the surcharges.”
To begin, the IMO would set emission standards for new ships, incorporating mandatory design and technology to meet the standards. Existing ships would get as close to the standard as is technically and economically possible. When ships fall short, owners would pay a tiered fee for bunker fuel based on how closely they can adhere to the standard. The more greenhouse gas the ship belches, the more it pays in taxes.
“We’re hopeful the IMO looks at the efficiency of the fleet. We don’t have any pretense that what we propose is perfect. What we want to do is help shape the debate by using vessel efficiency as a core approach,” Wood-Thomas said.
Contact R.G. Edmonson at firstname.lastname@example.org.