COP21 – the Great Shipping Debate

The battle lines around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are being drawn. And in line with tradition, the shipping industry is the subject of…

The battle lines around the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) are being drawn. And in line with tradition, the shipping industry is the subject of much debate, conjecture, and backroom lobbying. Should the industry be included in a global CO2 emissions reduction target? Should it even be a point in the draft agreement for COP21 in Paris? It’s been a regulatory hokey-cokey; it was in, then it was out, and now – at the time of writing – it’s in again.

“Parliament points out that transport is the second largest sector generating greenhouse gas emissions and calls on the parties to COP21 to work through the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on measures to cut emissions before the end of 2016.”

It’s brief, not exactly a compelling read, but hugely important, and sets the precedent for even more debate, conjecture and backroom lobbying over the next 12 months.

The complexity of the issue is based on significant disagreement over the facts. And, as is commonplace with the environmental debate, emotions run high. Both sides believe they are being rational.   And both sides believe they are recommending what is in the best interests of the shipping industry.

The camp that wants shipping included in a global target stresses the significance of the science. Namely that we – the world – have 1400GT of CO2 left that can be emitted before we cause irreversible, dangerous climate change, which is based on a temperature rise of over 2 degrees. According to many sources, we’re currently on a trajectory to reach 4 to 5 degrees by 2100. When sat on the beach, a couple of degrees here and there doesn’t sound much. But the temperature difference between today’s world and the last ice age was about 5 degrees; put simply, seemingly small changes in temperature can mean huge differences for the planet.

So, it’s agreed that something needs to be done, and the majority of member states, or major emitters (bar India) have created emissions reductions targets and timeframes. And this is where they have a problem with shipping. The shipping industry, while it might be the most environmentally efficient form of transport, emits more CO2 emissions that Germany, and if it were a country, it would be sixth on the list of offenders. If Germany has a target, why shouldn’t shipping? On top of this, there’s a significant amount of latent efficiency within the shipping industry that can be tapped into to drive exponential reduction.

The reticent camp who are wary of inclusion in a global target (as well as any kind of carbon tax) point to the recent Greenhouse Gas study, which states that between 2007 and 2012 CO2 emissions from shipping reduced by more than 10%, and that the industry is indeed – so they claim – on course for carbon neutral growth. They point to regulations that the IMO has introduced, including EEDI and SEEMP, which are designed to reduce CO2 emissions over the coming decades, as well as the development and uptake of new clean technologies. Credit where credits’s due and so forth.

The dissenters believe, that despite this, not enough is being done. They stress that the downturn in CO2 emissions in shipping was on the back of slow steaming and a significant reduction in global trade during the worst recession in living memory. They also point to the fact that the same GHG report that the IMO commissioned, states that future projections for emissions will rise between 50% and 250% by 2050.

The reticents want more time to collect data, to see how CO2 reduction targets in shipping continue, before implementing further, more stringent regulation beyond what already exists; an industry more regulated against than regulating.

Many believe there is no time for this. Action must happen now.

From a communications perspective, it is fascinating to watch. Both have detailed, and passionate arguments. But what does success look like? Progression will be based on compromise, but where will these compromises be made?

For those trying to drive change within the shipping, they should know that the industry does not respond well to being told what to do. Language, dialogue, sensitive articulation and engagement – the hallmark of effective communications and influencing – is key. They need to fully understand which buttons to push, and when to push them. Bullying will be folly. They need to build support from within, and work collaboratively – albeit firmly – to affect change.

And from the shipping industry’s perspective they need to do a better job of promoting some of the genuinely positive things that are being done within the sector; not fighting from a corner, reacting to criticism, but being on the front foot, and taking a proactive, transparent and honest approach. Progression is happening, but perhaps not at the speed required. They need to be congenial to the point that maybe, just maybe more needs to be done. If they choose to shut up shop, and argue the same points at the table of negotiation, they could be in trouble.

There is a good chance, given the hesitance in shipping making it onto the agenda, that COP21 will not be the defining moment for the industry and its environmental regulatory journey. But make no mistake, the debate is not going anywhere. For those that want change, COP21 has provided a sniff of opportunity. The battle lines have indeed been drawn, and there will be many more skirmishes, overtly and behind the scenes, on the road to Morocco in 2016.