IMO’s revised GHG strategy adopted, ‘by or around 2050’ net-zero target for shipping

The UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) has just adopted a revised strategy to decarbonise global shipping at the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80) climate summit in London.

Credit: International Maritime Organisation (IMO)

This week’s 80th MEPC marked a critical moment for determining whether the shipping industry is able to keep the Paris Agreement goal of 1.5°C alive and secure a just and equitable transition for the world’s most vulnerable countries.

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The meeting kicked off on 3 July, and the member states joined negotiations at the IMO’s headquarters in London with a view to setting out clear goals to revise its GHG Strategy.

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Levels of ambition directing the 2023 IMO GHG Strategy are as follows:   

  • carbon intensity of the ship to decline through further improvement of the energy efficiency for new ships and to review with the aim of strengthening the energy efficiency design requirements for ships; 
  • carbon intensity of international shipping to decline and to reduce CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, by at least 40% by 2030, compared to 2008;  
  • uptake of zero or near-zero GHG emission technologies, fuels and/or energy sources to represent at least 5%, striving for 10%, of the energy used by international shipping by 2030; and 
  • GHG emissions from international shipping as soon as possible and to reach net-zero GHG emissions by or around, i.e. close to 2050, taking into account different national circumstances, whilst pursuing efforts towards phasing them out as called for in the Vision consistent with the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement.

Countries also agreed on “indicative checkpoints” of reducing emissions by at least 20%, striving for 30%, by 2030, and at least 70%, striving for 80%, by 2040, reaching net-zero “by or around, i.e., close to 2050”, qualified by whether “national circumstances allow”.

“The adoption of the 2023 IMO Greenhouse Gas Strategy is a monumental development for IMO and opens a new chapter towards maritime decarbonization. At the same time, it is not the end goal, it is in many ways a starting point for the work that needs to intensify even more over the years and decades ahead of us. However, with the Revised Strategy that you have now agreed on, we have a clear direction, a common vision, and ambitious targets to guide us to deliver what the world expects from us,” IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said.

Shipping could fail to align with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement temperature goal

Civil society groups expressed their concern about the IMO’s “falure to firmly align global shipping with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature-warming limit”.

To be a success, the revised GHG Strategy needed to include 1.5-aligned science-based emission targets for 2030 and 2040, and an agreement to phase out all GHG emissions by no later than 2050. Additionally, these targets needed to be set in a way that supports all nations, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change.

“This week had everything to be a historical moment. The last chance for the IMO to align with the Paris Agreement temperature goal of 1.5°C, vital to secure a just and equitable transition for the world’s most vulnerable nations, and protect our global biodiversity, such as the world’s coral reefs which will simply cease to exist in a world above this temperature threshold. This agreement does not get us nowhere near 1.5°C,” Ana Laranjeira, Shipping Manager at Opportunity Green, stated.

The World Bank has estimated that $1 trillion to $3.7 trillion could be raised from putting a price on shipping emissions by 2050. However, the revised Strategy states that the earliest such a measure could enter into force is 2027, which is too little too late to meet 1.5°C, and does little to support a just and equitable transition for climate vulnerable nations, the organisation added.

There is no excuse for this wish and a prayer agreement. They knew what the science required, and that a 50% cut in emissions by 2030 was both possible and affordable. Instead the level of ambition agreed is far short of what is needed to be sure of keeping global heating below 1.5ºC and the language seemingly contrived to be vague and non-committal. The most vulnerable put up an admirable fight for high ambition and significantly improved the agreement but we are still a long way from the IMO treating the climate crisis with the urgency that it deserves and that the public demands,” John Maggs, Clean Shipping Coalition, added.

This week’s climate talks were reminiscent of rearranging the deckchairs on a sinking ship. The IMO had the opportunity to set an unambiguous and clear course towards the 1.5ºC temperature goal, but all it came up with is a wishy-washy compromise. Fortunately, states like the US, UK and the EU don’t have to wait for China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia to act. Ambitious national policies and green shipping lanes can have a global impact. It’s time to think globally, act locally,” Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment, noted.

“…This Strategy will see the shipping industry exhaust its 1.5oC carbon budget by 2032. Fortunately, major maritime nations, ports, and companies can still act to fully decarbonize ocean shipping by 2040 – and that’s what we’ll be pushing them to do,” Madeline Rose, Pacific Environment, emphasized.

The way the International Maritime Organisation has watered down its climate ambition will sink the shipping sector’s chances of meeting its Paris Agreement commitments. Due to this failure, we need ambitious countries and blocs to chart their own course and set carbon levies at national and regional level of at least $100 per tonne of greenhouse gas emissions,” Daniele Rao, Carbon Market Watch, explained.