To mark the total failure of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC80) at the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO) to do anything about shipping emissions, members of Ocean Rebellion dropped a banner reading ‘SOLD OUT TO FOSSIL FUELS’ in front of the IMO. Which is an accurate description of who controls the IMO and who benefits from its inaction.

By not committing to halve shipping emissions by 2030 the IMO is breaking the UN’s own commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement – how can a UN body do this? But given the Chinese delegates’ attempts to thwart any plans to reduce emissions further we’re not surprised.

And all this will please Shell boss Wael Sawan, it means his company, and all the other fossil fuel giants, can continue to get rid of their dirty byproduct Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) by burning it at sea. HFO is so toxic it’s use is banned on land, but it still gets used as fuel for ships, its soot still blackens the arctic ice and it still causes premature deaths all over the world (HFO is linked to 400,000 premature deaths worldwide per year at a health cost of $50 billion). Perhaps the fossil fuel companies should pay this health bill, or maybe the bill can be settled by the shipping industry? Without a carbon tax on shipping fuel our only economic fall back is the health cost – we can’t rely on their sense of moral duty, both industries are morally bankrupt.


HFO and the IMO
By allowing ships to burn HFO the IMO is significantly increasing shipping’s contribution to CO2 emissions rather than reducing them in line with the Paris Agreement. Furthermore black carbon from burnt HFO falls as soot and makes the ice caps absorb more heat and melt, further accelerating the terrifying feedback loops of planetary heating which are already killing millions and threaten all our lives. 

Black carbon is especially dangerous when emitted by ships in the Arctic. IMO has been discussing rules for black carbon for more than a decade and the best they have to show for it is a commitment for a voluntary switch to cleaner fuels. The shipping industry has shown themselves incapable of self-regulation and are putting countless lives at risk.  The time is now for a binding rule to tackle this potent source of climate heating.

The IMO must stop this stupidity now – voluntary switching has never worked, when has any industry ever volunteered any meaningful commitment to the environment? The IMO must act to end HFO use now – not just in the Arctic but everywhere – if it is illegal to burn a fuel type on land then it should be illegal to burn it at sea. After all, much of it eventually ends up in the same place – our lungs.

The fate of the Ocean depends on us all.
We’ll let you know what we’re doing to help.

Dirty Scrubbers
Not only is the IMO greenwashing fossil fuel use, it’s also proposing ‘scrubbers’ to do the same for ships. These scrubbers stop the worst HFO emissions entering the atmosphere: that’s good right? Well not if the scrubber turns it into an acidic solution and pumps it into the Ocean. So while still polluting the air the IMO is also now directly acidifying the sea – that’s surely the definition of greenwash! The IMO’s ‘solution’ is a toxic solution.

Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) – the facts
LNG is a fossil fuel that, when extracted, transported and burnt as a marine fuel, leaks methane into the atmosphere – a dangerous global-warming gas that is over 80-times more climate-warming in the short-term than carbon dioxide. Currently LNG is the shipping industry’s preferred alternative to HFO.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified rapid methane emission cuts as one of the top priorities in order to limit global warming to as close to 1.5°C as possible. The IPCC’s latest report focusing on climate mitigation makes clear that fossil gas in the form of LNG is not a solution for shipping’s decarbonisation.

Contrary to what climate science requires, shipping and port companies have been investing heavily in fossil LNG, alleging that the fuel will reduce their environmental impacts and climate pollution. There are currently over 785 new cargo ships on order globally, with over 400 being built to run on fossil LNG.

Burning more fossil LNG onboard vessels is a disaster in the making for our planet. It would only increase methane emissions from ships, which already rose by 150% between 2012 and 2018, according to the UN International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

The IMO is unfit for purpose
The IMO is clearly unfit for purpose. It only acts on behalf of the shipping industry and rarely considers the environment. It must halve shipping emissions now, we are already too late for some people to survive the IMOs grisly policies, but not yet for everyone. Add to this the IMO’s continued backing of the fossil fuel industry, by not taxing shipping fuel and allowing the dirty fossil fuel byproduct HFO to be burned at sea, plus its lack of regulation of hazardous petrochemical shipping, and the list of IMO misdeeds and wrong directions begins to get very long indeed. Given this ever expanding list isn’t it time the environmental remit of the IMO is governed by another, better, UN agency?  Life is too important to be squandered by inept bureaucracy.  

Ocean Rebellion demands:
The UN must form a new, transparent, and representative body to govern the Ocean for the benefit of ALL life. This new body must have the restoration and replenishment of the Ocean as its only measure of success. It should replace corporate power with people power. And it should represent the many forms of marine life who actually make the ocean a home.

The fate of the Ocean depends on us all.
Our interventions depend on your support.

Photos @Ocean Rebellion.

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