Activists drop “SOLD OUT TO FOSSIL FUELS” banner outside IMO

To mark the failure of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC80) at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) to do anything about shipping emissions, members of Ocean Rebellion dropped a banner outside IMO that read ‘SOLD OUT TO FOSSIL FUELS’. 

By not committing to halve shipping emissions by 2030, IMO is breaking the UN’s own commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement, with the Chinese delegates’ attempts to thwart any plans to reduce emissions further. 


Heavy Fuel Oil (HFO) is so toxic its use is banned on land, but it still gets used as fuel for ships, its soot still blackens the arctic ice and it still causes premature deaths all over the world (HFO is linked to 400,000 premature deaths worldwide per year at a health cost of US$50 billion). 

By allowing ships to burn HFO, IMO is significantly increasing shipping’s contribution to CO2 emissions rather than reducing them in line with the Paris Agreement. Furthermore, black carbon from burnt HFO falls as soot and makes the ice caps absorb more heat and melt, further accelerating the terrifying feedback loops of planetary heating which are already killing millions and threaten all our lives.

Black carbon is especially dangerous when emitted by ships in the Arctic. IMO has been discussing rules for black carbon for more than a decade and the best they have to show for it is a commitment for a voluntary switch to cleaner fuels. The shipping industry has shown themselves incapable of self-regulation and are putting countless lives at risk. The time is now for a binding rule to tackle this potent source of climate heating.

IMO must stop voluntary switching as this has never worked, and act to end HFO use now – not just in the Arctic but everywhere – if it is illegal to burn a fuel type on land then it should be illegal to burn it at sea. 

Dirty scrubbers

Not only is IMO greenwashing fossil fuel use, it’s also proposing scrubbers to do the same for ships.  However, these scrubbers turn HFO emissions into an acidic solution and pumps it into the ocean. 

Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) 

LNG is a fossil fuel that, when extracted, transported and burnt as a marine fuel, leaks methane into the atmosphere, a dangerous global-warming gas that is over 80-times more climate-warming in the short-term than carbon dioxide. Currently LNG is the shipping industry’s preferred alternative to HFO.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) identified rapid methane emission cuts as one of the top priorities in order to limit global warming to as close to 1.5°C as possible. The IPCC’s latest report focusing on climate mitigation makes clear that fossil gas in the form of LNG is not a solution for shipping’s decarbonization.

Contrary to what climate science requires, shipping and port companies have been investing heavily in fossil LNG, alleging that the fuel will reduce their environmental impacts and climate pollution. There are currently over 785 new cargo ships on order globally, with over 400 being built to run on fossil LNG.

Burning more fossil LNG onboard vessels is a disaster in the making for our planet. It would only increase methane emissions from ships, which already rose by 150% between 2012 and 2018, according to IMO.

Ocean Rebellion demands that the UN must form a new, transparent, and representative body to govern the ocean for the benefit of all life. This new body must have the restoration and replenishment of the ocean as its only measure of success. It should replace corporate power with people power. And it should represent the many forms of marine life who actually make the ocean a home.

Clive Russell from Ocean Rebellion says: “This is an emergency. Our greenhouse gas emissions are setting off a chain of events tipping our environment and societies towards climate chaos. Every moment we fail to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and commodities we threaten the resilience of nature. 

“With every day we fail to act, we approach dangerous tipping points with cascading knock-on impacts. There’s no time to waste, we must act now.”

Photo credit: Ocean Rebellion

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