After the greenhouse gas working group at the International Maritime Organization, the consensus is that member states are about to adopt a more stringent greenhouse gas reduction target that would align shipping with the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The crucial Maritime Environmental Protection Committee meeting, known as MEPC79, takes place at IMO headquarters in London next week. The current IMO target is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50 percent by 2050. In this era of heightened environmental concern, the pressure has been growing to align the industry with the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming to no more than 1.5°C. The maritime shipping industry is responsible for almost three percent of global CO2 emissions, so its climate strategy is critical to achieving global goals.

Binding decarbonization commitments have yet to emerge from IMO; the agency's initiatives have been overtaken by the efforts of European regulators, who are working on stringent carbon-trading requirements for shipping on domestic and international voyages. EU legislators agreed to include maritime transport within the EU’s emission trading scheme (ETS) during lengthy talks in late November, a move that will force ship operators to pay for their carbon emissions for the first time. Emission trading will force shipping companies to invest in clean technologies, otherwise they will have to pay a huge amount of money. Under the deal, ships travelling within the EU will be required to pay for 100% of their emissions, while 50% of the emissions of journeys to or from a non-EU destination will be covered.

"At COP26, global shipowners reiterated their commitment to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050," Guy Platten, ICS Secretary General, said. "We welcome signals that IMO member states now are on track to adopt a similar target for international shipping, as well as a goal for five percent of the energy used by shipping to be produced from alternative fuels by 2030. But the hard work starts now."

At the previous meeting in June there was accord around the need for a basket of measures that would combine a technical element such as a fuel standard, with an economic element. The basket was expected to include an emissions trading scheme (like the EU ETS) or a bunker levy, and it could be strict. However it was thought unlikely to include the ICS's International Maritime Research Fund, a $2/tonne bunker tax levy that did not advance at the last MEPC.  

At last week’s meeting Platten explained that there were many submissions on the table including ambitious but pragmatic decarbonization solutions, including ICS's recent 'Fund and Reward' proposal. “To move these proposals forward, government representatives at the MEPC must resist the urge to find fault and instead find cohesion,” Platten added. “The increasing impacts of climate change will not wait."

In order to achieve the 2050 targets zero-carbon fuels must be available in significant quantities later than 2030 but the ICS is encouraged that a 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 signaled acceptance of this approach rather than pursuing carbon trading on a global basis, and we hope next week will advance these complex negotiations further,” Platten added. “We urgently need to reduce the political and investment risk. We can never forget that to decarbonize the world; you need shipping."

Only two meetings remain until the MEPC finalizes the shipping industry's climate change strategy, so any IMO statements next week will be studied in detail.


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Issue 82 of Robban Assafina

(Nov./Dec. 2022)


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