Photo: © Shutterstock – Av Larina Marin

IMO adopts greenhouse gas strategy for shipping

While the EU pushed for emission cuts of 70–100 per cent by 2050, the final global agreement settled for a target of “at least 50 per cent”.

After two weeks of negotiations, countries meeting at the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London agreed on 13 April an initial strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships. The deal was supported by an overwhelming majority of countries – only Saudi Arabia, Brazil and the USA raised specific objections.

The stated levels of ambition are that greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping should peak as soon as possible and to reduce emissions by at least 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2008, while, at the same time, pursuing efforts towards phasing them out entirely.

The strategy includes a specific reference to “a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals”.

Climate Action Network concluded that “while the agreement falls short of the 70 to 100 per cent reductions by 2050 that the Pacific Islands, the EU and others were calling for ahead of the meeting, it keeps a window open to meet the Paris climate goals and is undeniably a game changer for the shipping sector”.

On top of the “at least 50-per-cent” reduction target, the strategy says that the carbon intensity of shipping shall decline through implementation of further phases of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) for new ships. Also, that the carbon intensity of international shipping shall decline by reducing CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, by at least 40 per cent by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70 per cent by 2050, compared to 2008 levels.

According to the IMO, this initial strategy sets out a future vision for international shipping, the levels of ambition to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and guiding principles. It includes a list of so-called candidate measures to be taken in the short-, mid- and long-term. Short-term measures include, for example, speed reductions. In line with the roadmap approved by IMO member states in 2016, the initial strategy is due to be revised by 2023.
International shipping currently accounts for 2–3 per cent of global CO2 emissions. Under the below 2˚C Paris temperature goal, the strategy’s target of at least halving emissions by 2050 means that shipping’s share of CO2 emissions is likely to grow to around 10 per cent by mid-century.

Veronica Frank, international political advisor at Greenpeace, said: “The plan is far from perfect, but the direction is now clear – a phase-out of carbon emissions. This decarbonisation must start now and targets improved along the way, because without concrete, urgent measures to cut emissions from shipping now the Paris ambition to limit warming to 1.5 degrees will become swiftly out of reach.

Dr Tristan Smith, a shipping expert at University College of London’s Energy Institute, said: “It is likely this target will tighten further, but even with the lowest level of ambition, the shipping industry will require rapid technological changes to produce zero-emission ships, moving from fossil fuels to a combination of electricity (batteries), renewable fuels derived from hydrogen, and potentially bioenergy.”

The next step of the strategy work will be to hold a fourth meeting of the IMO’s “Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG emissions from ships” later this year. The working group shall develop a programme of follow-up actions to the initial strategy and report progress to the next session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which is scheduled to meet on 22–26 October 2018.

Christer Ågren

IMO briefing, 13 April 2018:
CAN press release, 13 April 2018:



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