IMO agrees on new climate plan for global shipping, but not 1.5°C aligned

Civil society groups are deeply concerned by the UN’s International Maritime Organization (IMO) failure to firmly align global shipping with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature-warming limit, at the 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting (MEPC 80) this week.

The IMO’s 175 member states failed to agree on absolute emission reduction targets for 2030 and 2040, but instead identified “indicative checkpoints” of at least 20%, striving for 30% emission reduction by 2030, and at least 70%, striving for 80% reduction by 2040. The strategy also aims to reach only net-zero “by or around, i.e., close to 2050”, depending on “national circumstances”. 

While this brings shipping closer to the Paris Agreement’s temperature goal than before, thanks to the impressive efforts of the Pacific Island countries to push for higher ambition, it is far from sufficient to ensure shipping contributes its fair share to limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5°C, which would require emissions to halve by 2030 and reach zero by 2040, and will see shipping exceed its 1.5°C carbon budget between 2032 and 2033.

This agreement is the latest example of a pattern of behavior at the IMO, where climate and environment issues are addressed but not adequately responded to, and raises further questions about the institution’s suitability as a venue for tackling shipping’s serious impact on the climate and oceans. 

With negotiations undertaken behind closed doors and without all stakeholders or the media having the possibility to be in the room, it also raises serious concerns about the IMO’s institutional transparency.

The MEPC 80 agreement makes the case for a “coalition of the willing” disappointed with the weak ambition to push for further action, including at national, regional and industry level, to advance shipping’s 1.5°C transition. This must include:

1.5°C-aligned emission cuts

New regulations must be introduced and existing ones tightened to bring emissions down as soon as possible. This includes incentives to roll-out wind technologies, green fuel mandates to drive the uptake of zero-emission solutions, action on short-term climate pollutants such as methane and black carbon, mandatory slow-steaming, and the inclusion of shipping in national carbon markets. 

The EU’s (ETS) and the UK’s emission trading for shipping, as well as the EU’s marine fuels standard (FuelEU Maritime) sets an example for other countries and regions  to follow.

Equitable transition

Global and regional shipping levies, on a 1.5°C-aligned basis and of at least US$100 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions, are essential for generating vital climate finance to support vulnerable countries (especially SIDS and LDCs) and ensure an equitable transition in the industry.

Industry cooperation 

The shipping industry has made clear a 1.5°C-aligned transition is achievable, and it must increase its efforts to meet this target in the absence of IMO’s leadership. 

Shipping companies, green technology producers and investors need to ramp up investments in wind propulsion, green hydrogen, and other alternative energy solutions. 

Public and private cooperation on setting up more green shipping corridors will also be important.

Include shipping in NDCs 

Countries must take responsibility for their shipping emissions at COP28 as part of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.

Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment, said: “Aside from FIFA, it’s hard to think of an international organization more useless than the IMO. 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 1.5 0C 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.”

Daniele Rao, Carbon Market Watch, said: “The way the International Maritime Organization 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 US$100 per ton of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Photo credit: iStock/ artist-unlimited

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