IMO: We need all hands on deck for just and inclusive transition to low-carbon shipping

Decarbonizing international shipping is a priority issue for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and we need all hands on deck to support the maritime sector’s energy transition, IMO’s Secretary General Kitack Lim emphasized at the Second IMO Symposium on low- and zero-carbon fuels for shipping.

Following the success of last year’s symposium, when IMO held discussions about the reduction of GHG emissions from ships, this year’s topic was Ensuring a just and inclusive transition towards low-carbon shipping”.

IMO officials stressed the theme reflects the need to support the shipping sector to pursue zero-emission goals while leaving no one behind. This means all members need to actively engage in the process of revising the Initial IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships and develop a basket of candidate mid-term measures.

In 2018, IMO adopted an initial strategy for the reduction of GHG emissions from ships. The strategy envisages, in particular, a reduction in the carbon intensity of international shipping, which means reducing CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, by at least 40% by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008.

Moreover, the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping should be reduced by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008. The strategy also includes a specific reference to “a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals”.

Now, the new mid-term measures should incorporate technical and economic elements, that will set global shipping on an ambitious path to phasing out GHG emissions towards the middle of this century. 

“We are now approaching a critical point towards finalizing the decarbonization strategy by mid-2023,” Lim pointed out.

“Incentivizing the availability and scalability of low- and zero-carbon marine fuels and technologies and ensuring the ability of all Member States to take part in this transition is paramount. In parallel, we need to look at any measures that may need to be put in place to address safety issues related to alternative fuels.”

IMO’s Secretary General further noted that to support the “just and equitable” transition, the shipping industry needs to overcome global barriers in accessing low- and zero-carbon marine fuels, especially with regards to demand, price and scale.

With the new technologies and new green fuels emerging, the shipping sector will need relevant training for the maritime workforce as the companies chart the way forward to decarbonize international shipping.

“While there are significant obstacles to overcome in our decarbonization journey, we must not forget that this transition also comes with significant opportunities, including for developing countries, such as the expansion of renewable energy production or the inclusion of developing countries in route-based action plans,” Liam stated.

However, at last year’s IMO 77th Marine Protection Committee (MEPC77) session, IMO failed to revise the current GHG target for 2050. Despite widespread support for keeping warming below 1.5 degrees and for ending ship climate emissions by 2050, the organization had not made progress to agree on the new goal.

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The move was criticized by energy transition supporters, including global international environmental organisation Clean Shipping Coalition (CSC). The CSC officials said that this represents yet another blow to any efforts to start reducing GHG emissions from ocean shipping and to align the sector with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

Meanwhile, this year’s MEPC 78 saw IMO taking only small steps towards decarbonising the sector. The members reiterated their commitment to review and strengthen the initial strategy with a view to adopting a revised strategy in mid-2023.