Let’s end the debate: outing international shipping into the ETS is clearly legal


Shipping companies are crying foul over EU plans to regulate the sector’s emissions. But the industry’s claim that new rules would break international law has no legal basis, write Faïg Abbasov and Aoife O’Leary.

Faïg Abbasov is shipping director with Transport & Environment, a clean mobility campaign group; Aoife O’Leary is director for international climate at the Environmental Defense Fund, a green NGO.

After thirty years of regulatory silence on international shipping emissions, the EU has now committed to act by extending its Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to cover the maritime sector. Not surprisingly, much of the shipping industry is trying to prevent this by stoking trade tensions and raising international legal questions.

Their goal is ostensibly to scare the EU and member states against climate action on shipping. Politics aside, legally speaking, this is an incompetent effort to say the least. Here’s why.

The EU is amending its Monitoring, Reporting and Verification Regulation (MRV) for shipping emissions which requires all ships stopping at EU ports to provide information on their emissions. Some of the amendments would require those ships to actually reduce emissions on journeys to or from and within the EU.

The European Parliament has approved the amendments, but is waiting for the European Council to weigh in. Regardless of the outcome of that negotiation, the European Commission has promised to bring forward several proposals this year on reducing shipping’s climate impact.

So, while there will be a debate about how the EU is going to regulate international shipping, there is no doubt that it will happen soon.

The shipping industry suggests that putting shipping in the EU ETS might not comply with international law. The same question was raised when aviation was put in the EU ETS with various industry groups challenging the legality of that move. However, the EU Court of Justice, Europe’s highest court, ruled that the action did comply with international law.

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EURACTIV, 29 January 2021
; https://www.euractiv.com/section/shipping/opinion/lets-end-the-debate-putting-international-shipping-into-the-ets-is-clearly-legal/