UN shipping agency inches towards 2030 emission reduction goal

9 December, 2022 – This week’s round of technical talks at the UN’s maritime regulator showed countries are prepared to phase out shipping emissions by 2050. More crucially, support appears to be building for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to also adopt an ambitious 2030 interim target for cutting emissions from ships.

On the question of strengthening the 2050 Level of Ambition, a huge majority of interventions by member states and industry bodies (34) were in favour of setting a zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by this date, in addition to four interventions in favour of a Net Zero target by this date. Only a small group of 10 member states opposed strengthening the current 2050 target.

This is a hopeful development ahead of the 79th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) meeting at the IMO on 12-16 December, where delegates are set to continue the  negotiations. However, what is urgently needed is a clear commitment to a 2030 short-term absolute emissions ceiling and a 2040 deadline for shipping’s emissions, as the only way to decarbonise the industry in line with the 1.5°C climate-heating limit set by the Paris Agreement. 

Acting on shipping’s 1 billion tonnes of annual emissions in the next few years is vital for keeping the 1.5°C limit alive. Civil society groups demand the IMO commits to halving emissions from ships by 2030 to reach zero by 2040. Immediate action on dangerous, short-term pollutants released from vessels, such as black carbon and methane, can directly eliminate more than 21% of shipping’s emissions already today.

The IMO’s 175 member states must use the growing momentum and rally behind science-based targets at MEPC 79.

We welcome the statement of the IMO Secretary General that consensus is building towards a substantial carbon price to raise the tens of billions per year needed to upgrade the sector to zero carbon propulsion. However, it is vital that the IMO considers the needs of vulnerable countries and communities, especially Small Island Developing states and Least Developed Countries (SIDS and LDCs), when designing and implementing any future carbon pricing measure. A levy of at least $100/tonne of carbon, in combination with a fuel standard, could generate much-needed funding to drive the uptake of zero-emission solutions and to support SIDS and LDCs in adapting to the climate crisis.

John Maggs, Clean Shipping Coalition, said: “The science is clear; shipping’s climate impacts have to halve by 2030 to ensure warming stays below the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C limit. But a strong absolute emission reduction target for 2030 is essential to send an unambiguous signal to industry and investors that the race to decarbonise shipping has well and truly started. Without that signal most will continue to sit on their hands while emissions and temperatures rise and the climate crisis deepens.

Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy, said: “What took us by surprise at the IMO’s technical deliberations this week was that countries started coalescing around the need for ambitious interim emissions reduction targets. This is an encouraging sign and going into the critical MEPC policy negotiations next week the IMO needs to build on this momentum to come to agreements that can unlock essential investments that will keep industry emissions in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement. That means the IMO must commit to a 50% emissions reduction target by 2030 in addition to reaching zero emissions ideally by 2040 and no later than 2050.” 

Lucy Gilliam, Seas at Risk, said: “Every fraction of degree of heating matters in terms of preventing cascading climate impacts from being triggered. Therefore, it’s absolutely essential to have ambitious targets for climate action every step of the way if we are to avert the climate hell that is currently forecast. This week we made some steps with proposals for 2030 targets and regular check points. Next week let’s prepare for some giant leaps! We need a strong signal from the IMO to guide our voyage to zero.”

Sian Prior, Clean Arctic Alliance, said: “The IMO and its Members must not delay on delivering the deep cuts to black carbon emissions from ships which are immediately possible, and crucially they must integrate black carbon into all IMO climate measures, including the carbon intensity indicator, so regulations target not just CO2 but CO2 equivalents (CO2e) including black carbon. It is essential that next week, MEPC 79 supports the development of black carbon regulation.”

Daniele Rao, Carbon Market Watch, said: “More countries than ever before are on board not only for setting a hard deadline for shipping’s decarbonisation but also for bringing emissions down faster, earlier, and in a way that can benefit the most vulnerable. Climate-ambitious countries must keep the drumbeat going next week on the 2030 target, and⁠—if they are serious about just transition⁠—support the $100 carbon levy proposal by the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands.”

The IMO is currently in the process of revising its existing climate strategy, which aims to only halve emissions from ships by 2050. Delegates met in London for a round of technical talks (ISWG-GHG-13) on 5-9 December, with the conclusions of this session being submitted for further deliberations at MEPC 79 on 12-16 December. The strategy revision is set to be concluded at MEPC 80 in 2023.

The regulator is also negotiating on a ‘basket’ of different measures to reduce emissions from ships in the medium-term, including a carbon levy and a fuel standard.

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