The 81st meeting of the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) that ended on 22 March mostly laid the groundwork for upcoming legislation and regulations that are yet to be determined but are expected to be tuned towards meeting revised greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions targets of net-zero by or around 2050 that were adopted last year.

  • Global standard needed to decarbonise shipping: IMO secretary-general

IMO secretary-general Arsenio Dominguez stressed the need for “global regulations for a global sector” in a Q&A session.
Dominguez presented an economic pricing mechanism and added that he believes the IMO can adopt by this time next year, ahead of finalising the structure as either a levy or a rebate. The IMO will look to establish an expert group on marine-specific fuel specification standards for alternative fuels, Dominguez added. And a working group will be established at the next MEPC meeting to review the carbon intensity index system.

  • New ECA zones in the Norwegian Sea and Canadian Arctic waters

The IMO has approved proposals to designate the Norwegian Sea and Canadian Arctic waters as emission control areas (ECAs) starting in March 2026, which will cover nitrogen oxide and sulphur oxide emissions in both areas, as well as particulate matter in Canadian Arctic waters. This was accompanied by amendments to annex six of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships in order to enact these ECAs, with a view to adopting the amendments at the next MEPC meeting.

  • IMO adopts 2024 LCA guidelines and “net-zero framework”

MEPC 81 approved life cycle assessment (LCA) guidelines of marine fuels on a well-to-wake emissions basis, covering all fuels and other energy carriers utilised onboard vessels. The guidelines will cover CO2, methane and nitrous oxide emissions only. LCA guidelines will cover emissions from the point of feedstock extraction/cultivation, all the way up to fuel combustion.

Member states also agreed on an IMO net-zero framework that will be utilised for proposals such as the economic pricing mechanism, as well as a technical element covering GHG emissions. The secretary-general previously said that up to 20 possible combinations of the technical and economic elements will be considered for these measures.

  • Market reactions mixed

Market reactions to the MEPC 81 outcomes were mixed. The positive steps taken towards meeting the revised 2023 GHG emissions targets were acknowledged, but the overwhelming viewpoint is that the IMO should move faster. Participants are looking forward to MEPC 82 — scheduled for 30 September-4 October — which will likely
discuss and reach broader convergence on the specifics of the pricing mechanism.  Participants expect this mechanism to operate as a “levy” style system, although it remains to be seen whether this will happen. Participants also lamented the lack of approved guidelines and frameworks from the IMO for the use of biofuels in shipping, following the lack of sufficient support for proposed drafts on the guidance for this in MEPC 81. 

In summary, MEPC 81 represented a crucial step in the energy transition phase for the maritime industry, and the secretary-general pointed out key measures that are currently being considered to facilitate the transition. But the market viewpoint is that more has to be done, and quicker, in order to achieve GHG targets.

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Author: Hussein Al-Khalisy, Alternative Marine Fuels Reporter