Enough Talk: Crunch Time for IMO Shipping Measures to Cut Climate Impacts

Berge Stahl, Berge Stahl Port of Rotterdam, Holland 08-Jul-2006. Photo by Alf van Beem, supplied by Pixabay/WikimediaImages

London, 7 March 2024:- Ahead of next week’s meeting of the International Maritime Organization’s Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships (IMO, IWSG-GHG-16, March 11-15) and the subsequent Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 81, March 18-22), the Clean Shipping Coalition is calling on the IMO to take action in three key areas:

  • Tracking and Measuring Energy Efficiency: Improving the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) will quantify and raise ship efficiency while fostering greater transparency and driving deep and lasting reductions in pollution.
  • Global Fuel/Energy Standards: Clear, enforceable fuel/energy standards will catalyse the transition to clean energy. By incentivizing investment in wind power and zero-GHG fuels, these standards will reduce emissions and spur the creation of green jobs and resilient economies worldwide.
  • Equitable Implementation of a Pollution Fee: Holding polluters accountable via a greenhouse gas emission levy, would ensure a just and equitable transition to clean shipping. The resulting revenue can be used to support vulnerable nations and ensure all can play a part in the energy transition.

“Setting goals is one thing, but agreeing and implementing the regulations that will propel the shipping sector towards a clean and just transition is quite another matter”, said Clean Shipping Coalition President John Maggs. “The hard work for the IMO starts during next week’s ISWG meeting, when it can avail of several tools to achieve these changes. A greenhouse gas (GHG) levy on ship fuel, such as the $150 proposal from Pacific Island countries and Belize, is essential to funding a just energy transition and ensuring no-one is left behind.”

“An IMO GHG fuel or energy standard is also needed to incentivise the uptake of wind propulsion and ensure that future new fuels are available when required”, added Maggs. “Most importantly, the IMO must move swiftly to revise its Carbon Intensity Indicator and agree tough new requirements to ensure that ships improve energy efficiency year on year. This is especially important to ensure the lowest cost, most efficient energy transition and to incentivise shipping behaviour, such as slower speeds, that will also provide important ocean health co-benefits”.

“In setting the binding policies that will ensure the shipping industry actually meets–and ideally surpasses–the emission reductions called for in the 2023 GHG strategy, it is critical that the energy transformation does not come at the expense of geographically remote and climate-vulnerable countries, especially small islands, that already face high shipping costs and are forced to use their limited resources to adapt to the impacts of climate change—a crisis that these countries contributed to the least”, said Delaine McCullough, Shipping Emissions Policy Manager at Ocean Conservancy. “A fee of $150/ton of pollution, as proposed by Pacific Island states and Belize, would incentivize greater efficiency and uptake of zero-emission energy and generate funds that can be invested in sector research and development and, most important, in ensuring an equitable transition that leaves no country behind. Given the urgency and complexity of the IMO’s task, there is no time to waste debating any proposals that will fail to deliver on either maritime pollution or an equitable transitionThe time for ambitious, thoughtful action is now”.

“Shipping’s climate transition is intricately linked to the speed and the scale of investments in green energy, like green methanol and ammonia, in renewables-rich countries”, said Faig Abassov, Director, Shipping, at Transport and Environment. “However, no sane investor will put their money into green fuels production until there is demand from the shipping sector. Therefore, it is imperative that IMO develops ambitious and effective green fuel standard and carbon pricing to send investment certainties for future suppliers. It is crunch time to push green projects across the finish line!”

“International shipping is embarking on an important journey and must take strides towards both decarbonisation and reducing its impact on ocean life. While decarbonisation is crucial, there are also other pressing issues that need addressing: chemical and oil spills, whale strikes and underwater noise pollution are common occurrences in shipping, seriously undermining ocean health”, said Anais Rios, Shipping Policy Officer at Seas At Risk. “By embracing wind power, and implementing well-designed regulations that drive improvements in operational energy efficiency, shipping can both decarbonise and also protect ocean health. It is crucial that we prioritise these advancements, guiding the maritime sector towards a more sustainable future and keeping global heating below the critical 1.5 degree Celsius threshold.”

About the Carbon Intensity Indicator
Developed as an integral component of a set of IMO policies intended to drive greater energy efficiency of ships, the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) entered into force on 1st November 2022 and applies from the 1st January 2023 to all ships covered by the IMO Data Collection System.

The IMO’s revised Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) will be central to the IMO’s ability to drive emission reductions on a pathway that meets the targets contained in its revised greenhouse gas (GHG Strategy) which commits the shipping industry to decarbonise by 2050 and aims to cut emissions by 30% by 2030 and 80% by 2040. The new GHG Strategy also contains a commitment to ensure a 5-10% uptake of zero emission fuels/energy sources by 2030. 

“As warming has already reached approximately 1.2C, early emissions reductions are especially important to avoid breaching the 1.5C threshold and to avoid triggering climate tipping points. Even assuming that a maximum of 10% new near-zero and zero-emission fuels are available by 2030 there remains a very significant “emissions gap” that must be filled by improvements in ship energy efficiency driven by the Carbon Intensity Indicator – and there is no other measure on the table that can do this”.

If the IMO and international shipping are to meet their climate obligations and at least achieve the emissions reductions called for in the revised GHG Strategy then a number of changes will need to be made to the CII. Perhaps most important, after raising the levels of ambition (the energy efficiency improvement requirements), is ensuring that the targeted emission reductions are reliable and real. The current “soft” enforcement will need to be replaced with a more traditional approach that has real consequences for failing to comply.

According to a paper submitted to MEPC 81 by the Clean Shipping Coalition, Pacific Environment and WWF, the “revision of the CII, which is due to start at MEPC82 [September 30 – October 4th] and conclude before the end of 2025, is a key opportunity to bring it up to date with the revised GHG Strategy and to make sure that it works in the future in a coherent way with the contents of the basket of mid-term measures being negotiated at the same time. With the absence of any firm enforcement mechanism and with annual energy efficiency improvement requirements that are little better than ‘business as usual’ it is perhaps understandable that some have referred to this first period of CII as an ‘experience building phase’. But this phase must come to an end, and from 2027 the CII must be in a position to play a major role, alongside the proposed goal-based fuel standard (GFS) and other mid-term measures, in driving the urgently needed ship climate emission reductions.”

The co-benefits of using wind-powered and slower ships include reduced underwater radiated noise and whale strikes which leads to healthier whale and other ocean wildlife populations that can contribute to the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon. As the paper states “as the recent Organization’s workshop on the relationship between energy efficiency and underwater radiated noise (URN) clearly illustrated, ships that operate more efficiently,  with the objective of reducing GHG emissions, are also quieter and less likely to disturb whales and other ocean wildlife. When ships slow down, they are also less likely to collide with and kill/injure whales and other ocean wildlife and are, generally, less polluting. This is the other largely unacknowledged aspect of shipping’s climate impact: ship operations are routinely and relentlessly undermining global ocean health and hindering the ocean’s ability to help us mitigate global heating. Healthy ocean ecosystems are needed to win the fight against global heating, and for that, a general lowering of shipping’s environmental impact is needed, not just for it to reduce its GHG emissions, as important as that is.”

Greenhouse Gas Emission Levy: The Pacific Islands and Belize are leading the effort at the IMO to ensure that the transition to a cleaner shipping industry is equitable and are championing equitable policies that prioritise the needs of developing nations and communities most vulnerable to climate change.


CSC Side Events: 

Tuesday 12 March, ISWG GHG 16: “Analysis on interaction of CII with GFS: Calibrating IMO energy efficiency and fuels targets”, 1.30 – 2 pm, Main Hall, IMO HQ.

Thursday 21st March, MEPC81: “Preparing for the revision of the CII”, 1:30 – 2 pm, Main Hall, IMO HQ. 


Key CSC IMO Submissions

More CSC MEPC 81 submissions can be viewed and downloaded here

Contact: Dave Walsh, press@cleanshipping.org, +34 691 826 764


About the Clean Shipping Coalition:

The Clean Shipping Coalition is an international association of civil society environmental protection organisations, and the only one with a purely shipping focus.

We help develop and drive global environment and climate laws on shipping, principally at the United Nation’s shipping regulator, the International Maritime Organization.


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Infographic: Why the IMO and international shipping needs a strong revised Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII)

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