IMO’s carbon measures face backlash as too weak

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted efficiency measures to reduce carbon intensity from ships, targeting a 1.5 % annual ship CO2 intensity cut between 2023-2026.

Image credit: IMO

The measures are expected to result in an estimated 11% improvement by 2026 compared to 2019 levels and will take the form of a mix of technical and operational approaches.

The EU and the U.S. have reportedly pushed for the reduction of carbon intensity by up to 22% by 2026, however, Brazil, Argentina, and some African nations sought lighter targets amid uncertainties on the efficiency of alternative fuels being researched at the moment.

The targets have been faced with fierce criticism from environmental organizations as too weak and unambitious.

Faig Abbasov, shipping director at Transport & Environment (T&E), said the measure was purely cosmetic and was disregarding ‘the urgency of climate problem’. He also criticized the UN regulator’s meddling in EU efforts to include shipping in its ETS system, since IMO was unable to provide a systemic solution for the issue.

“The target is as weak as what would be achieved under business as usual and falls far short of the 7% annual reduction required to meet the goals of the Paris agreement,” T&E said, adding that the EU must resist all attempts by the IMO to stop it taking effective regional measures to reduce the climate impact of shipping in Europe.

The Clean Arctic Alliance was not happy with the measures either, saying that they were indistinguishable from business-as-usual.

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“Since IMO short-term measures to address greenhouse gas reductions from shipping is so weak it will mean no reductions in CO2 emissions in coming 5 yrs,” the organization said.

Meanwhile, the Clean Arctic Alliance has called on the IMO to take urgent action to reduce black carbon emissions from shipping in the Arctic, which is vital to slowing the rapid pace of climate change in the region.

“Last month, the Arctic Council released a new report concluding that the Arctic is warming three times faster than the average heating across the whole planet and we face the possibility that major portions of the cryosphere will be gone. Climate heating in the Arctic threatens the global climate and sea level rise around the world is an immediate concern for low-lying cities. A two metre sea level rise will have devastating impacts in many coastal communities and will likely put community infrastructure underwater,” said Austin Ahmusak, Kawerak Marine Advocate, from Nome, Alaska during an address to the IMO.

“Bolder action to protect the Arctic is urgently needed. The whole world looks to the IMO to address international shipping’s contribution to the Arctic climate crisis – in hope it will take meaningful action to reduce both emissions of greenhouse gases as well as emissions of black carbon.” 

During the meeting, which runs from 10-17 June, IMO member states are set to adopt a regulation banning the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO), a proposal for a resolution to address black carbon pollution in the Arctic, the discharge of wastewater from the use of exhaust gas cleaning systems and the impact of underwater noise.

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Speaking at the meeting’s opening, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said the stakes were high, stressing that the adoption of short-term measures at the session was crucial to organization’s ability to deliver on the commitments made in its initial strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions from shipping.

“Let me be blunt, failure is not an option, as if we fail in our quest, it is not unreasonable to conclude that we run the risk of having unilateral or multilateral initiatives, but, I have full confidence that you will demonstrate that the IMO can be trusted to deliver on commitments it has already agreed,” Lim said.

Under the IMO strategy, the member states have vowed to cut annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050, compared with their level in 2008, and work towards phasing out GHG emissions from shipping entirely as soon as possible in this century. 

The Initial GHG Strategy envisages a reduction in carbon intensity of international shipping (to reduce 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. 

The strategy is scheduled to be revised by 2023.