In the midst of a diplomatic row over the inclusion of aviation in the EU's emissions trading scheme (ETS), the European Commission is to propose bringing maritime transport into the scheme.
All ships entering or leaving EU ports would be required to purchase credits for the greenhouse gases that they emit. This would correspond to the requirement that was introduced for aircraft in January.
The Commission is obliged to propose a market-based mechanism to reduce shipping emissions because a meeting last week of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) failed to make headway on creating a global agreement to reduce emissions. The EU's 2009 ETS law requires that the Commission act unilaterally to reduce shipping emissions, as it did with aviation, if there is no global solution by December 2011.
While the IMO was meeting last week, Chinese media were claiming that Hong Kong Airlines would cancel an aircraft order with Airbus in retaliation for the EU's insistence on including foreign airlines in the ETS system. European media reports then cited Berlin sources as saying Germany was reversing its support for including aviation in the ETS.
But Hong Kong Airlines would not confirm that it had made any such threat, and this week the German environment and economy ministers issued a joint statement insisting that they still support the Commission in its battle with foreign airlines.
The Commission is consulting until April on four possible market mechanisms for shipping: inclusion in the ETS, a compensation fund, a fuel or carbon tax, or a mandatory emission reduction per ship. A proposal could emerge as early as June. A report conducted for the Commission in 2010 concluded that inclusion in the ETS would be the best out of the four options because it would use existing structures.
Commission officials say that they would prefer a global system and a proposal would be put forward reluctantly, in the hope that it might jolt the IMO into action.
“We saw the ETS put pressure on the [international aviation body] ICAO. This could do the same for the IMO,” said Bill Hemmings of green transport group T&E. “But I don't think anyone in Brussels thinks this aviation thing has been much fun.”
The shipping industry doubts that the Commission will have the nerve to put forward a proposal. “Our suspicion is that the problems the Commission has experienced with implementation of aviation in the ETS will probably serve to reduce any enthusiasm for a regional CO2 rating for shipping,” said Simon Bennett of the International Chamber of Shipping, which prefers a global solution.
In 2010, shipping accounted for 15.3% of the EU's transport emissions, which was more than airline emissions (12.4%). A 2010 Commission report showed ships arriving at or departing from EU ports in 2006 emitted 310 million tonnes of CO2, which was 6.1% of the EU's total emissions and 31% of all global shipping emissions. Global emissions from shipping are expected to double by 2050 if no action is taken.
Stig Schjølset, head of EU carbon analysis for Thomson Reuters Point Carbon, said: “Aviation would be the starting point for the shipping sector, but you have to look at differences between the sectors.” He said ships were more likely than aircraft to change their routes or stopping-points because of the emissions regime.
The EU's environment ministers meet in Brussels tomorrow (9 March), where they will receive an update from the Commission on the inclusion of airlines in the ETS. The member states have so far supported the law, which they agreed in 2009.