It’s been almost a year since the COP21 talks concluded, described by former French foreign minister Laurent Fabius as the “historic turning point” in the fight to lower emissions and slow the effects of climate change. The absence of the shipping sector – which accounts for approximately 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions – from the official Paris agreement, however, disappointed many.

It may have been a missed opportunity, but all is not lost. The Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Partnerships Project, or GloMEEP for short, is focusing attention on ten developing countries, hoping to shift them to a low-carbon maritime sector and lower, or at least prevent from rising, that 2.5% figure.

“In some projections,” says Andrew Hudson, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) head of water and ocean governance, “in the ‘business-as-usual’ no change scenario, shipping’s share of global GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions could grow significantly, in worst case to as much as 10-12% of all global emissions.”

So, what is GloMEEP? It has three organisations heading it up: the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the UNDP, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO), and follows the model of the GloBallast Partnerships Programme, “which has been supporting countries to implement ballast water management to prevent the spread of aquatic invasive species in ballast water,” explains Astrid Dispert, IMO’s GloMEEP technical adviser.

A total of $2m in funding has come from the GEF and UNDP, and the project is expected to run for an initial two years, although this could be extended if necessary.

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The guinea pigs: ten pilot countries

Sharing the money and knowledge are ten lead pilot countries (LPC): Argentina, China, Georgia, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, Panama, the Philippines and South Africa.

They have been chosen for their burgeoning maritime sectors, but also for the need to develop their ability to limit the damage this growth could have on the environment.

“An increasingly large proportion of ship construction, operation and flagging is located in developing vs. developed countries,” explains Hudson. “Governments in many of these countries lack the necessary capacity to make and implement required national policy, regulatory and other reforms…[therefore there is a] need for a concerted capacity building effort.”

"GloMEEP is working with ten pilot countries."

Dispert says they are engaging in “fast-track” workshops, driven by three principal areas: legal, policy and institutional reforms; raising awareness; and the establishment of public-private partnerships to share technology and knowledge.

The first such workshop was held in December, in Georgia, and since then others have been arranged in South Africa, China, Morocco and Jamaica, among others. Each country has a lead agency, a national focal point for political support, and a national project coordinator, who will work with the GloMEEP project coordination unit in London.

Dispert also wants GloMEEP to help LPCs meet the requirements of MARPOL Annex VI, which limits the main air pollutants contained in ships’ exhaust gas. As she explains: “Some of the challenges which the project aims to address include the lack of capacity, especially in those countries which have only recently acceded to MARPOL Annex VI.”

For Dispert, it’s also a matter of looking beyond the “hardware” aspect to the training and expertise of local people. The challenge, she argues, is to ensure there are “properly trained crews who can contribute to efficient shipping”.

“The role of the seafarer needs greater consideration,” she adds, as without this knowledge and experience “technology cannot be effectively used”.

Taking a global approach to cutting emissions

With such a diverse list of challenges, the necessity of the workshops becomes clear, as does the two-year duration. And there’s every chance that GloMEEP will need more time.

Xiaomei Tan, senior climate change specialist, and Christian Severin, senior environmental specialist, both from the GEF, summarise the road ahead by asking: “How [do we] establish a global approach to reducing GHG emissions from the maritime industry?

“The sector has untapped potential in energy savings and emissions reduction. Energy consumption and CO2 emissions could be reduced by up to 75% by applying operational measures and implementing existing technologies.”

Realising that potential, however, is easier said than done. For all of GloMEEP’s good intentions, it will, on some levels, rely on the support from national governments and the private sector. And, with such a large pool of people involved, keeping everyone happy could be difficult. Tan also mentions a lack of awareness, saying that “ship owners, operators and charterers may not be aware of the energy saving potential that exists.”

The IMO, GEF and UNDP hope to get around this by making all material free for use, while there’s an energy efficiency information portal available on the web. A global industry alliance is also in development to make the most of interest from the private sector.

"How do we establish a global approach to reducing emissions?"

Overall, it’s a very large body of work – too big for any one organisation to shoulder the burden alone. The IMO, GEF and UNDP all stress that this is about “collaboration”, but, when it comes to delivering results, what would constitute success?

“We would like to achieve accession by all ten GloMEEP countries to MARPOL Annex VI,” says Dispert; Argentina, Georgia, and the Philippines are the only three yet to ratify it. Tan and Severin, bold in their predictions, want to see the “deployment and commercialisation of low-carbon technologies adopted in [the ten] pilot countries”.

You can’t argue with the enthusiasm, and Dispert and Hudson are adamant that this is not simply a reactionary move to the industry’s, shall we say, leisurely pace in fighting emissions.

Rather, it “underscores the commitment by governments, the UN system, and the shipping sector, to take action on this issue”, says Hudson. If GloMEEP succeeds, it will go some way to erasing the frustrations felt nearly 12 months ago.