UMAS: IMO’s 2030 and 2040 targets are ‘very close’ to 1.5°C pathway and spell the end of fossil-fuelled shipping

A recent analysis by UK-based maritime consultancy UMAS has shed light on the alignment of the Revised IMO GHG Strategy with science-based targets, which will require a strong and rapid response from national and regional governments as well as corporations alike.

Credit: IMO

Failure to do so could relegate these entities to the realm of mere compliance and greenwashing, rendering their efforts ineffective in the face of mounting climate challenges.

The key finding is that the IMO’s targets correspond to a path of 1.55-1.61.5°C according to the budget defined by the IPCC.

As explained, the huge level of modifications to existing and new ships, even at the minimum level of ambition, which requires the average ship’s GHG intensity to be reduced by 86% by 2040, spells an end to the era of fossil-fuelled shipping. 

The implications of the Revised IMO GHG Strategy reverberate across various facets of the maritime industry, urging stakeholders to reevaluate their strategies and actions.

One of the key findings in UMAS’ report on the Implications of the Revised IMO GHG Strategy for national, regional and corporate action is the strategy’s 2030 and 2040 targets, while not unequivocally aligned with the 1.5°C pathway, closely mirror the guidelines set by organizations like the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi). This alignment now offers a clearer risk and opportunity landscape, prompting actors to adopt a more definite 1.5°C alignment in their plans, lest they risk falling behind in the transition.

Moreover, it’s essential to recognize that the IMO’s Revised Ambition is just one piece of the puzzle. The maritime industry’s transformation hinges on a complex interplay of public and private actions and levers. To navigate this evolving landscape effectively, stakeholders must formulate comprehensive decarbonization strategies that account for all these transition levers, including the IMO’s revised strategy and impending regulations, national, regional, and corporate initiatives.

Shipping’s transition has never been just about what happens at the IMO, it is about the interplay between various public and private levers. To remain relevant, national, regional and corporate actions need to move to clear 1.5oC alignment otherwise they will lag behind IMO’s ambition and risk creating confusion, opacity, inaction and admin burden to the transition,” Dr Tristan Smith, Reader at UCL Energy Institute, Director of UMAS said. 

Furthermore, the pressure for industry leaders to align with 1.5°C goals is intensifying, particularly regarding avoiding accusations of ‘greenwashing.’ Existing corporate initiatives, such as the Poseidon Principles and Sea Cargo Charter, currently fall short of referencing or aligning with the UN’s guidance on the integrity of voluntary net-zero commitments. The recommendation here is to apply and align with the UN’s High-Level Expert Group on Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities, ensuring alignment with IPCC’s science and robust disclosure practices.

National actions in the context of the maritime sector are facing a compressed timeframe and shifting roles. While domestic maritime regulation remains essential, international shipping will witness legislative clarity only when IMO mid-term measures come into force in 2027/28. Thus, countries aiming to gain a strategic advantage in shipping’s transition must expedite their national action plans, focusing particularly on the period leading up to 2027/28.

As such, there is now only a small window of 3-4 years before IMO’s mid-term measures enter into force in 2027/2028. Early mover action through private action is crucial in this emergence phase of shipping’s transition but the analysis shows industry initiatives have suffered from a lack of ambition, transparency and reliability. The pressure to align with 1.5oC pathway is now even higher – otherwise what is being stated as leadership is not only greenwashing, but nothing more than compliance. 

Much remains to be desired of industry initiatives. Our analysis shows none are aligned with the latest climate science in terms of their ambition and lack transparency. This needs to change, for example by following guidance published by the UN for private actors, or the very actors that present themselves as the vanguard face the risk of being called out for greenwashing,” Dr Nishatabbas Rehmatulla, Principal research fellow at UCL and Principal Consultant at UMAS said.

As such UMAS recommends that national governments bring forward plans for national action
to be particularly focused on the period from now to 2027/28, and develop or align action on domestic shipping. Lower-income countries with an opportunity in transition now have an urgent need to develop national strategies that can unlock the associated investment.

Green Corridors, which were announced following the Clydebank Declaration, hold promise but must move beyond feasibility stages and operate on zero or near-zero emissions solutions well before 2030 to remain relevant and not merely compliance measures, UMAS added. Collaboration between public and private entities is crucial to ensure the timely implementation of these initiatives.

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Finally, regional policies, like the inclusion of shipping in the EU ETS and EU fuel standards, currently appear of limited significance compared to what can be expected from the IMO’s mid-term measures. These policies, which partially cover a ship’s fuel consumption and can disproportionately affect developing country trade, need to be revised for higher stringency and greater equity in transitioning to zero or near-zero emissions. Consideration should also be given to how regional policies can harmonize with global measures outlined in the IMO’s Revised Strategy.