IMO ready to make the plunge toward zero emissions goal by 2050?

Countries seem to be prepared to phase out shipping’s emissions by 2050, based on the first rounds of technical talks at the UN’s maritime regulator International Maritime Organization (IMO).

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim; Image credit IMO

Furthermore, support appears to be building for the IMO to also adopt an ambitious 2030 interim target for cutting emissions from ships.

Specifically, the IMO’s Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG emissions from Ships (ISWGGHG 13) has been meeting from 5-9 December 2022. The talks preceded the 79th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) meeting at the IMO scheduled for 12-16 December when talks are expected to continue.

One of the key topics on the agenda is the need for more ambitious decarbonization targets in line with the Paris 1.5 objective. Pacific island nations have been very vocal about this need as for them this is a matter of survival.

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Maritime environmental advocacy groups and associations said that 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. A small group of 10 member states opposed strengthening the current 2050 target.

The developments are encouraging especially as the IMO readies to roll out its revised GHG strategy in 2023. However, a clear commitment to the 2030 short-term absolute emissions ceiling and a 2040 deadline for shipping emissions is needed, to get aligned with the 1.5°C climate-heating limit set by the Paris Agreement.

“We welcome signals that IMO member states now seem to be on track to adopt a similar target for international shipping, as well as a goal for 5% of the energy used by shipping to be produced from alternative fuels by 2030. But the hard work starts now,” ICS Secretary General Guy Platten commented.

“Many submissions on the table at the IMO include ambitious but pragmatic decarbonisation solutions, including ICS’s recent ‘Fund and Reward’ proposal. Government representatives at the MEPC must resist the urge to find fault, and instead find cohesion, to move these proposals forward. The increasing impacts of climate change will not wait.

“Zero-carbon fuels must be available in significant quantities no later than 2030 if we’re to have any hope of hitting a 2050 target. Encouragingly, consensus is growing. Proposals show a groundswell of support for a flat rate contribution per tonne of CO2 emitted by ships on a global basis, to accelerate the production and uptake of these fuels.

“The EU 27 have signalled acceptance of this approach rather than pursuing carbon trading on a global basis, and we hope next week will advance these complex negotiations further.

“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,”
said John Maggs, Clean Shipping Coalition.

“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,” Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy, said.

Daniele Rao, Carbon Market Watch, said that more countries than ever before are on board not only for setting a hard deadline for shipping’s decarbonisation. Climate-ambitious countries must keep the drumbeat going next week on the 2030 target, and support the $100 carbon levy proposal by the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands, she added.

“It’s baffling that IMO member states are not moving to rapidly reduce black carbon emissions from global shipping, and, in fact, are prepared to delay including black carbon in the life cycle analysis of future fuels. The reduction of black carbon is a relatively simple step that could happen virtually overnight, and it is the measure that has the greatest potential to reduce warming from shipping in the near term. This ‘low hanging fruit’ would be particularly significant for the Arctic where black carbon represents the majority of shipping’s near term warming effect,” Jim Gamble, Pacific Environment, said.

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.