International Maritime Organization (IMO) secretary-general Kitack Lim has urged the shipping industry to boost its efforts to cut sulphur emissions by using IMO 2020-compliant fuels before the regulation deadline on 1 January 2020. 

The IMO has limited the amount of sulphur in fuel oil used on board ships to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) from the start of next year.

Kicking off a two-day event to discuss sulphur emissions at the IMO headquarters in London, Lim said that “the shipping sector is essential for a sustainable future,” and stakeholders in the maritime sector which include member governments, shipowners and operators, fuel oil suppliers, NGOS and the IMO Secretariat have taken considerable amount of steps to comply with the sulphur cap.

“We are already seeing several pioneering efforts to put the shipping sector on the right path towards a more environmentally responsible future,” he said yesterday. 

Reducing emissions by capitalising on sustainable energy sources 

Highlighting the importance of sustainability in shipping, Lim stressed the importance of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which “sent a clear signal to the shipping and relevant industries that the sector will need to decarbonise in this century.” 

The IMO has set a goal of at least a 50% reduction in GHG emissions from international shipping by 2050, which would require a more-than 80% reduction of GHG emission from every single ship.

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Lim declared that maritime activities themselves need to be sustainable and it is IMO’s role to ensure that shipping continues to make its contribution to global trade and development in a sustainable way. “This means that the fuels of the future used by ships need to come from sustainable energy sources and sustainable feedstocks,” he added. 

Referring to the ongoing event, Lim said it will contribute towards making those in the industry more aware of strategies which can be implemented to comply with IMO 2020. 

“This Symposium comes at a time when shipping is making a big step towards that sustainable future. However, the voyage has just started towards a more environmentally friendly and low or zero-carbon future that the sector must attain. 

“I’d like to emphasise that collaboration among key stakeholders is essential for the smooth landing of IMO 2020,” he said. 

Making environment-friendly fuel easily accessible 

The main challenge is to ensure low sulphur fuel oil is easily available. Lim said: “Sufficient availability of such compliant fuels on the global market, which should be compatible with the existing engines, is highly essential and therefore, preparation, well before 2020, is the key to success of IMO 2020.

“Furthermore, it has required shipowners to consider how and when to procure this fuel oil and to prepare their ships to receive, store and use this fuel oil on board. This is a significant logistical and technical challenge.

“IMO’s ambition can only be realised with the development and application of technological innovation and the introduction of alternative fuels, which means low- or zero-carbon fuels should be made available soon,” he said. 

In a bid to simplify the process, IMO pledged to support the industry through the development of specific guidelines, including the development of a ship implementation plan (SIP) which outlines all types of marine fuels which can be used to comply with the regulation. 

Why IMO 2020 was necessary

Touching on the history of the IMO 2020, Lim said: “In May this year, the MEPC [Marine Environment Protection Committee] completed many guidelines and guidance documents to support the consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit under MARPOL Annex VI. The progress made clearly demonstrates IMO’s collective commitment to that goal.”

In October 2008, the IMO adopted comprehensive amendments to MARPOL Annex VI that regulates the prevention of air pollution from ships including sulphur oxides and nitrous oxides, and prohibits deliberate emissions of ozone-depleting substances.

“In October 2016, following a thorough review of the provision on the 0.50% sulphur requirement, IMO and MEPC confirmed that the rule becomes mandatory on 1 January 2020,” Lim said.