smokestack on a ship

The European Commission will launch a shipping emissions monitoring system early next year, in a move widely seen as postponement of action to reduce emissions.

In a disgraceful abdication of its responsibilities, its solution will only cover “a simple, robust and globally feasible approach towards setting a system for monitoring, reporting and verification of emissions based on fuel consumption", it said in a statement issued by Vice-President of the European Commission Siim Kallas and EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard.

This 'might' form the basis for bringing shipping into a maritime emissions trading scheme or imposing bunker fuel levies.

According to Elina Bardram, the head of the EU DG Climate Action's international carbon markets unit, setting up such a scheme would be easier and could happen “more quickly than for aviation".

The reason for the policy U-turn is simple: other European Commission departments are intensely opposed to action to curb shipping emissions.

They have been ruffled by the ongoing trade disagreements with China and legal threats from the United States over bringing aviation emissions into the European Emissions Trading System (EU ETS).

There are feelings that doing the same for shipping emissions would be “too difficult, to politically charged", said a senior official in the Transport Directorate.

Rather than take action separately from the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), as it has with aviation and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the Climate Action directorate now says that it would prefer to work with the IMO.

"The shipping industry itself is best placed to take the lead in delivering fast and effective greenhouse gas emission reductions – thereby cutting cost and making the sector fit for the future. The Commission is ready to play its part, in the EU and at IMO level", it said in a statement.

Pressure groups Transport and Environment and Seas at Risk have expressed disappointment at a "new postponement to cut shipping emissions".

They said:"The EU has thus far not taken any measures to tackle GHGs from the shipping sector, and progress within the International Maritime Organisation on a global market-based measure has stalled amid arguments over technology transfer and global climate change policy," in a statement.

They also want to see other pollutants such as sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide monitored.

In July 2011 the IMO introduced the Energy Efficiency Design Index for reducing emissions from shipping, but it only applies to new ships and will not come into force until 2015.