The path less well taken: What postponing IMO III could really mean for all of us

What would you choose if you knew that you could reduce pollution from oceangoing vessels by 90 percent? With the latest developments in IMO III, we are at just such an intersection.

What would you choose if there was a moment in your life when you had the chance to really change it for the better or to lose out completely?

We are at just such an intersection with the latest developments on IMO III. A few weeks ago, a working group of the International Maritime Organization did a surprising u-turn and proposed postponing the enactment of IMO III, the latest in a series of environmental regulations that would make global shipping and oceangoing cleaner for all of us in the long term. IMO III is the first step in IMO legislation to require the marine industry to make decisive changes for lowering emissions.

The entire marine industry took that directive very seriously. We invested billions into the future by developing the technology that would heal and protect it. The cost of such investment into a cleaner environment could clearly be covered by the cost of global sea transportation – by far the most inexpensive means of global transportation. We were going to reduce pollution from oceangoing vessels by up to 90 percent at minimal additional expense. Sure, IMO III had a sub-paragraph with provisions for postponing it for five years, but no one thought seriously about making use of it – solving the pollution crisis had far greater priority.

And yet the IMO’s decision to reopen a discussion that was essentially closed suggests that some countries do not feel the same way. Two minutes to midnight before IMO III is supposed to come into effect on 1 January 2016, a handful of governments have decided to use their influence in the IMO to land a coup that will hurt absolutely everyone, ultimately even their own citizens.

The move feels like a blast from the past, like 19th-century Europe, in which 400 little nation-states did as they pleased without caring much how their neighbors might suffer as a result. What’s worse, it suggests that these governments and the international organizations connected to them now lack the integrity to supercede the isolated interests of a few – very, very short-termed isolated interests – even in matters of the greatest international urgency, that affect everyone worldwide.

What happens next will affect everyone everywhere: International pollution knows no national borders. And the globalization of trade and commerce has led to a huge increase in global transportation, which in turn has led to a significant increase in air pollution caused by shipping. Global shipping is responsible for about 3 percent of the world’s air pollution by CO2, 10 percent by NOx and about 50 percent by sulfur. There are actually places on major global shipping routes where you can taste and smell the heavy fuel oil in the air. We have to clean up our act if we want to improve or even reverse these trends. It’s clear what will happen if we don’t: Global pollution will increase proportionately to the increase in global trade. Right now, global trade is increasing between 4 and 6 percent year over year, which means that pollution – NOx and SOx specifically – will, too.

With IMO III, we have a real opportunity to change it all for the better and to be the type of industry that we’ve always said we want to be, i.e. one that greens the environment rather than its image. To make that happen, we need some help from government. We need the governments involved to keep their original promise so that IMO III comes into force in 2016. Transportation is a global business by nature, and it can only work under legislation that is truly global by design. Otherwise, we will end up with laws from individual nations and regions, which will make it very, very difficult for global shipping organizations to cope and comply.

You don’t get many chances to make right in just years the oversights that others have made for decades. Let’s make the most of our opportunity.

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About the author

Axel Kettmann

Axel Kettmann is Senior Vice President, Head of Sales, Marketing and Service at ABB Turbocharging in Baden, Switzerland. A native of Germany, he worked for several years as a partner in a Hamburg legal firm, where he specialized in corporate law and contract negotiation before beginning his work as General Counsel in Germany for US company Caterpillar. He joined ABB Turbocharging as General Manager of Service in 2005.
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