Ottawa, ON — The United Nations group which regulates the international shipping industry is being asked to cut emissions from the cargo ships, oil tankers and other vessels that crisscross the world’s oceans, as they threaten to become the single-largest source of planet-warming greenhouse gases.
Canada, however, is being secretive about what it wants to see done ahead of a meeting in the United Kingdom next week that will try to set some emission-cutting targets.
A standoff is expected at the International Marine Organization meeting in London. While several countries, including those in the European Union as well as Japan and China, want significant cuts to shipping emissions, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Brazil want to move more slowly, fearing the economic impacts to the industry.
Emissions from international shipping were excluded from the Paris agreement in 2015 with the IMO promising to handle it. In 2016 the IMO said it would aim to have an interim strategy in 2018 and a final plan in 2023.
The IMO estimates that, if left unchecked, emissions from shipping could grow up to 250 per cent by 2050. Shipping emissions are not assigned to any one country, but on their own, they are bigger than the total emissions from all but the six biggest emitters — China, the United States, India, Russia, Japan and Germany.
A spokesman for Transport Canada says Canada is one of the most ambitious members of the IMO, but would give no specifics about what Canada is pressing for or what it is willing to commit to doing to cut shipping emissions.
“The government of Canada is playing a leadership role in the fight against climate change and has been amongst the most vocal and ambitious member states at the International Maritime Organization,” Pierre Manoni said in an email. “We are working with our international partners to gain consensus and develop an ambitious strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international maritime shipping.”
Andrew Dumbrille, the sustainable shipping specialist at the World Wildlife Fund Canada, said that’s about the same response he got during a conference call with the government when he asked what they were proposing to do.
“I can’t get anything more concrete than that,” he said.
Dumbrille said Canada has been in favour of discussing short-term measures, such as reducing the speed of ships, which can be done immediately. He said cutting ship speeds can reduce emissions by as much as 30 per cent. But he says commitments on the longer-term side have been invisible, if they exist.
The WWF says the shipping industry has to cut emissions 70 to 100 per cent by 2050. That would largely come through technological improvements including better fuels. Right now the shipping industry relies on the “dirtiest fuel on the planet” said Dumbrille.
Heavy fuel oil, a byproduct of distilling gasoline, is a sludgy, tar-like substance that is half the cost of most alternatives but produces significantly more emissions, including carbon dioxide and black carbon, as well as fine particulate matter and sulphur, all of which contribute not just to global warming but to lung diseases.
It’s estimated heavy fuel oil contributes to thousands of deaths from air pollution each year.
Several countries are trying to ban the use of heavy fuel in the Arctic and reduce its use everywhere, but Canada last year asked to slow that process while it looks at economic impacts on Arctic communities.