LONDON (Reuters) - The International Maritime Organization (IMO) agreed on Friday on energy efficiency design standards for new ships to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but developing countries will probably delay implementation by using a waiver, delegates said.
Forty-eight countries voted in favor of adopting a mandatory energy efficiency design index (EEDI) for new ships at a meeting of the IMO's marine environment protection committee in London on Friday, while five were against and 12 abstained, delegates told Reuters.
Delegates said the regulation would likely enter into force in 2013.
The European Commission, which has threatened to pursue market-based mechanisms such as including shipping in its emissions trading scheme (ETS), said the move was a "major step forward."
"This does not mean that the Commission will not propose anything for maritime next year. We are looking at the options on how the maritime sector can further contribute to the emissions reduction efforts. Bringing shipping into the ETS is only one of the options," a Commission spokesman said.
Aviation is set to be included in the ETS in 2012, but U.S. airlines are challenging the decision in the EU's highest court and China has also voiced criticism.
Shipping accounts for around 3.3 percent of the world's man-made carbon dioxide emissions. According to an IMO study, shipping emissions could grow by 150 to 250 percent by 2050 if regulation is not in place.
The EEDI will force new ships to meet a minimum level of energy efficiency. Ships built between 2015 and 2019 will need to improve their efficiency by 10 percent, rising to 20 percent between 2020 and 2024 and 30 percent for ships delivered after 2024.
The move could result in fuel savings of $5 billion a year by 2020 and carbon dioxide reductions of 22 million tonnes, according to Peter Boyd, chief operating officer at the Carbon War Room.
"The real prize for the planet and profitability lies in the existing fleet. These new standards could save more than $50 billion a year in fuel and 220 million tonnes of CO2 if they were applied to all ships," he added.
A group of countries led by China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa secured a waiver for new ships registered in developing nations until 2019, claiming they needed more time to acquire more advanced technologies.
But an EU shipbuilder could, for example, also decide to apply for the waiver if they flag a ship in a developing country, meaning they don't have to comply with the regulation until 2019.
The rift between developed and developing countries resembles differences over emissions cuts in failed U.N. climate talks.
"Adopting the EEDI is the right step but the long delay weakens its short to medium term impact significantly. If the IMO does not deliver action quickly now on existing ships, it will be up to the EU to take the lead at a regional level," said Bill Hemmings, director of Brussels-based non-governmental organization Transport & Environment.
The meeting did not tackle market-based mechanisms to control emissions, which disappointed many delegates.
(Reporting by Nina Chestney; Editing by Anthony Barker and Sofina Mirza-Reid)