Global shipping can halve emissions without impacting trade, study finds ahead of key UN decision

26 June 2023 – The global shipping industry can reduce emissions by nearly 50% by the end of the decade, according to a new study by CE Delft. These findings come as the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) is about to reach an agreement on climate targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships in July.

Civil society groups call on the IMO’s 175 member states to urgently support halving shipping emissions by 2030 and reaching zero by 2040 to put the industry on the zero-emission pathway required for achieving the 1.5°C temperature warming limit agreed under the Paris Agreement. Today’s study from CE Delft provides strong evidence to policymakers that these targets are also economically and technologically feasible.

The analysis shows that ships can achieve 36-47% emissions reduction by 2030 compared to 2008 levels by deploying 5-10% zero or near-zero emission fuels, wind-assist technologies, and by ‘climate optimising’ the speed of ships. 

The study also concludes that costs associated with these emissions cuts would be manageable. Halving emissions in this decade would only add around 10% to the total cost of shipping operations, a sum that would be dwarfed by the cost of climate related damages to the industry and wider society if shipping fails to cut emissions. University College London estimates that every year of inaction this decade will add an extra $100 billion to the cost of shipping decarbonisation. 

John Maggs, Seas At Risk, said: “The science is crystal clear, emissions from shipping have to halve by 2030 if we are to stand any chance of keeping warming below the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature limit. What was less clear until now was if this was possible without impacting trade. Now we know not only that it is possible and shipping has a clear pathway to halving its climate impact by 2030, but that it can do so at minimal cost.

Faïg Abbasov, Transport & Environment, said: Waiting until 2050 to decarbonise is a bit like waiting until your house burns down before you call the fire brigade. This would be irresponsible and disingenuous. Science says halving emissions by 2030 is technically possible, and costs are manageable. What is needed is the political will; IMO needs to either step up or ship out!

Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy, said: Countries and shipping companies have raised real concerns about the technological and economic feasibility of achieving the 1.5°C-aligned goal of halving emissions by 2030. This analysis clearly shows that these reductions are possible and that costs are not a barrier. The evidence couldn’t come at a better time. The IMO must not squander what may be the last best opportunity to put shipping on track to prevent a climate disaster.

Antonio Santos, Pacific Environment, said, “The findings are in: global shipping can halve its climate-wrecking emissions this decade without disrupting trade. The costs are minimal for the industry to step up and meet their responsibilities for decarbonization, steering shipping into alignment with a 1.5°C world, while helping to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The upcoming IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in July is a historic opportunity to decarbonize international shipping, and including science-based 2030 and 2040 targets are essential to meeting this moment.

Read the full study here.

Background information:

The study was commissioned by Transport & Environment, Seas at Risk, Ocean Conservancy and Pacific Environment.

The IMO is in the process of revising its existing climate targets, which currently aim to only halve emissions from ships by 2050. The negotiations are set to continue on 26-30 June with an Intersessional Working Group meeting (ISWG-GHG-15), before concluding on 3-7 July at the 80th session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting (MEPC 80).

The last round of talks on 20-24 March (ISWG-GHG-14) showed 45 countries in the room agreed to shipping reaching zero-emissions by 2050. Support also grew for urgent action sooner.

Zero emissions by 2040 is already the goal of Maersk, the world’s 2nd largest container shipping line, who are confident this date is technologically possible and practical. Many of the world’s biggest buyers of maritime freight, including Amazon, IKEA, and Unilever, have committed to progressively switching all their cargo bookings over to zero-emission ships to reach 100% by 2040.

The World Bank, Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Centre, the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology and  the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have also previously called on the IMO to cut emissions from ships before 2030.

Read the full study here.

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