IMO takes baby steps to increase ambition, but immediate action still missing

13 June 2022 – More countries than ever before agree that the global shipping industry must step up action to tackle its impacts on the climate. A clear majority of delegates intervening at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) climate talks last week (MEPC 78) were in favour of revising the IMO’s current climate strategy to decarbonise shipping by 2050 – moving the sector much closer to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global heating below 1.5°C.

Although long-overdue, this is an encouraging development and makes the IMO’s adoption of greater ambition more likely. However, achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal requires immediate action to halve emissions by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2040.

IMO member states have a clear duty as well as the necessary tools already at their disposal, both nationally and internationally, to bring down shipping emissions today. These include:

  • Increasing the level of ambition: To be fully compliant with the Paris Agreement, the IMO must commit as soon as possible to halving shipping emissions by 2030, and reach full decarbonization of the shipping industry by 2040. This is the only way to ensure a genuinely 1.5°C climate-heating pathway.
  • Enhancing Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII): Delegates must raise the existing CII requirements to a 7% annual improvement in carbon intensity, while ensuring this applies to all ships and is strictly enforceable.
  • Acting on black carbon: The IMO must agree to deep cuts in black carbon emissions from ships operating in or near the Arctic. Black carbon emissions represent 20% of shipping’s climate impact and are particularly damaging when emitted near ice and snow.
  • Supporting climate-vulnerable countries: Small Island States, Least Developed Countries, and Indigenous communities face unprecedented challenges brought on by climate change, which are not of their doing. The IMO must adopt mechanisms to account for devastating climate impacts and provide timely support for the economies of vulnerable communities to ensure a just transition.

Reducing emissions in the next few years is vital for keeping the 1.5°C temperature target alive, before other measures, such as a carbon levy, a fuel standard and other mid-term policies, can have any effect.

John Maggs, Clean Shipping Coalition, saidStates are now talking about ending ship climate emissions by 2050, but years of inaction mean that target is no longer good enough. A failure to act earlier means the shipping industry has already burnt a large part of its 1.5°C carbon budget. Talk of enhanced ambition is welcome but having failed to act earlier the shipping industry must now halve its emissions by 2030 and decarbonise entirely by 2040, not 2050, to keep global heating below 1.5°C.

Dan Hubbell, Ocean Conservancy, said: “After last week, it’s clear that most states support reaching zero shipping emissions by 2050. That’s an excellent start, but we can already see the usual suspects at the IMO try to delay and obstruct real, meaningful action any way they can. Time is short and the coming level of ambition, which should also include intermediary targets for 2030 and 2040, should make it clear to everyone that achieving our goal of a 1.5C future will require an equally strong set of short term and midterm measures to enable an equitable and rapid transition.” 

Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment, said: “For technological and ecological transition in shipping, tomorrow matters more than next week. Therefore, the litmus for IMO progress should be judged by how much GHG it can cut, or how much sustainable and scalable fuels it can drive in shipping in this decade. Any action that is short of that is only a smokescreen.

Lucy Gilliam, Seas at Risk, said: “There are steps we can take to reduce emissions from shipping now but sadly we are moving at barely snail’s pace. We urgently need to raise ambition and align our strategy to truly meet 1.5°C and ensure the poorest are not left behind in this transition. It’s high time for all hands on deck to tackle the multiple crises we face.

The IMO will hold additional working group talks (ISWG-GHG) on the strategy revision later this year before bringing the discussion to MEPC 79 in December. Delegates must reach an agreement by MEPC 80 in 2023.

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