IMO fails to adopt more ambitious 2050 target

The IMO failed to adopt a concrete shipping decarbonisation target for shipping this week following the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) meeting that ended earlier today.

Courtesy of the IMO

The support from the member countries for eliminating the industry’s emissions by 2050 and for setting interim targets to achieve this goal is increasing with 10 members still opposing the target against 24 in the June meeting.

A clear majority of IMO member states (32 countries) are in favour of setting a zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050.

  • Countries in favour of 0 by 2050 at MEPC 79: Nigeria(new), the Marshall Islands, Sweden, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Malta, Canada, Spain, Vanuatu, Tonga, the United States, the United Kingdom, the Solomon Islands, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Finland, Tuvalu, New Zealand, Fiji, Ireland, Japan, Kiribati, Jamaica, Cook Islands, Mexico, Palau, Maldives, France, and Republic of Korea.
  • Countries in favour of net 0 by 2050 at MEPC 79Chile (new), VietNam (new), Singapore (net), and Australia.
  • No to increasing the level of ambition at MEPC 79South Africa, India, Brazil, Argentina, UAE, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, China, Russian Federation, and Turkey.

The IMO is currently in the process of revising its existing climate strategy, which aims to only halve emissions from ships by 2050. MEPC 79 met on 12-16 December, with negotiations set to continue in a technical working group in spring 2023 (ISWG-GHG-14) and to conclude at MEPC 80 in July 2023.

The IMO 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.

“The shipping industry urgently needs clear market and regulatory signals to reduce the investment risk currently surrounding alternative energy sources and technologies,” Guy Platten, the Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping, said.

Civil society groups, several countries as well as influential IMO observers—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)—are also calling for an additional, ambitious absolute emission reduction target for 2030.

“While no decision was reached this week on tackling the damage shipping does to our planet, we have definitely seen important progress in this direction. Countries were lining up in support of the 2050 full decarbonisation goal, or at least acknowledging the need to act fast,” Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy, said.

“That’s the spirit the IMO has been missing for years, and which is necessary to deliver decisive action next year. We need to keep the drumbeat going and focus now on steep emission reduction in the next couple of years, as climate science requires us to do.”

Climate science insists a significant drop in emissions before the end of this decade is a prerequisite for meeting the 1.5°C climate-heating limit. Acting early will also save the industry around $100 billion per year in the costs of decarbonisation, preserving this capital for the important task of shipping’s green transition and of supporting the most vulnerable.

Environmental organizations from the sector are urging the countries to use the remaining time before concluding the negotiations next year to focus on strengthening this to 2040 and on the IMO adopting an ambitious interim 2030 target that will deliver steep emission cuts in this decade.

A combination of an ambitious fuel standard and a global carbon levy could also contribute towards rapid emission reduction. A levy of at least $100/tonne of carbon in particular will generate tens of billions of dollars to not only drive the uptake of zero-emission propulsion in the industry but also to support the most vulnerable.

The needs of Small Island Developing states and Least Developed Countries must be taken into account at every step of the way when developing and implementing these measures in the future.

“MEPC 79 was truly a bridge-building summit for stepping up the IMO’s climate action. Despite a few, dwindling blockers, most countries are finally on board to act on shipping’s pollution with concrete targets. The same cannot be said, however, when it comes to the policies we will need to actually deliver the clean transition,” Daniele Rao, Carbon Market Watch, said.

“The IMO has been talking about the same ‘basket of measures’ for over a year, but the time is now to start shortlisting the best, most ambitious and equitable proposals. The $100 carbon levy proposed by the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands is the best option on the table for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships and for supporting the most vulnerable.”

“Shipping decarbonization must happen on a fast timeline to avoid the worst impacts of climate change. The IMO’s current greenhouse gas strategy to only halve emissions from ships by 2050 is not aggressive enough,” Antonio Santos, Pacific Environment, said.

“This week at MEPC 79 we were encouraged to see growing support from member states for a strengthening of the 2050 level of ambition and to include interim checkpoints, as well as an agreement for IMO to further consider measures to reduce the impact of Black Carbon emissions from ships operating in the Arctic. We look forward to MEPC 80 next year when 2 the IMO has the opportunity to achieve a historic moment by finalising a revised GHG strategy that leads the shipping industry into a zero-emissions future.”