An International Maritime Organization (IMO) working group has made concrete progress in developing lifecycle GHG/carbon intensity guidelines (LCA guidelines), to be utilized when assessing the overall climate impact of new fuels, which shipping needs to transition to in order to meet the GHG reduction ambitions, as set out in IMO's Initial GHG Strategy.  

The Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (ISWG-GHG 9), which met 15-17 September, discussed a number of submissions by Member States and international organizations, including proposed lifecycle guidelines. 

The lifecycle refers to the assessment of GHG emissions from the fuel production to the final use on board a ship (Well-to-Wake); including from primary production to carriage of the fuel in a ship's tank (Well-to-Tank, also known as upstream emissions) and from the ship's fuel tank to the exhaust (Tank-to-Propeller or Tank-to-Wake, also known as downstream emissions). 

Low and zero-carbon fuels will be needed to decarbonize shipping. For different fuel options, there is a need to consider issues such as safety, regulation, pricing, infrastructural availability, lifecycle GHG emissions, supply chain constraints, barriers to adoption and more.  

Candidate future low- and zero-carbon fuels for shipping have diverse production pathways (for example, different generations of biofuels or hydrogen-based fuels produced by renewable energy sources or fossil fuels) entailing significant differences in their overall environmental footprint. The IMO LCA guidelines will set a common framework for the lifecycle assessment of the GHG intensity of marine fuels, covering both the upstream and the downstream parts.

The determination of lifecycle GHG intensity values for a wide range of fuels requires assessments using a scientific approach. In this regard, the Group agreed that there was a need to develop a procedure with clear and objective criteria to be used to determine default emission values, or actual values under certain circumstances, including documentation, verification and certification.

The Group identified priority areas for further work to advance the development of the guidelines, including identification of sustainability criteria, of appropriate fuel certification schemes, and of approaches for regular review by IMO of both upstream and downstream (default) emission values. 

The Group invited IMO members to strengthen their collaboration, taking into account the views expressed during ISWG-GHG 9, with a view to submit proposals to a next session.

The Group also considered proposals to reduce methane slip and emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs).

The next intersessional Working Group meeting on GHG (ISWG–GHG 10) will take place from 18 to 22 October. This session will consider, inter alia, proposals for mid-term measures to reduce GHG emissions, including a number of submissions related to potential market-based measures. This is in line with the work plan approved by MEPC 76 (June 2021).  

Read more on IMO's work to reduce GHG emissions from shipping.