Shipping industry urges governments to take forward US$5 billion decarbonization program

As governments come together this week at the IMO to consider important next steps to decarbonize maritime transport, the global shipping industry urgently calls on them to take forward its proposal for an industry-financed, US$5 billion research and development program.

As governments come together this week at the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) to consider important next steps to decarbonize maritime transport, the global shipping industry urgently calls on them to take forward its proposal for an industry-financed, US$5 billion research and development program, to catalyze the transformation of the industry from dependence on fossil fuels to operating with zero-carbon energy sources.

Although total emissions from shipping are about 7% lower than in 2008, there is a limit to what can be achieved so long as ships remain dependent on fossil fuels and global demand for maritime services continue to grow. The carbon reductions required by the IMO target of reducing total emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008, will only come from identifying and developing new zero-carbon technologies so that commercially viable zero-carbon ships can begin to operate in the 2030s.

There are several potential solutions, such as hydrogen or ammonia produced from renewable energy sources, but these do not yet exist in a scale or form that can be applied to large ocean-going ships. A host of complex technical questions remain to be answered, including safety, storage, distribution, energy density considerations and lifecycle impacts. 

In short, we do not yet know what the fuels of the future will be.  The shipping industry has therefore proposed a US$5 billion R&D program, to be overseen by IMO and financed through a required R&D contribution of US$2 per ton of marine fuel consumed. The R&D program would be managed through a non-governmental research and development organization – an International Maritime Research and Development Board or IMRB.

The co-sponsors emphasize that for the proposal to work, the R&D contributions need to be

compulsory via an IMO regulation, to ensure that all shipping companies globally contribute, in a fair and equitable manner, and that the necessary funds will be generated to achieve the program’s objectives.

A number of governments are understood to be positive to the proposal, subject to addressing issues such as governance.  The industry is eager to work with governments to ensure that this initiative is implemented as soon as possible and calls on the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee to support the development of the IMRB concept at its critical meeting starting 16 Nov. 

The IMO 2050 climate targets can only be achieved with the immediate acceleration of zero-carbon fuels and technologies, and the IMRB is a crucial vehicle for driving the progress needed to build a zero-carbon shipping industry.

Highlights of the IMRB proposal:

  • The IMRB would be quasi-independent, subject to IMO Oversight, with the sole duty to accelerate the research and development of low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels, energy sources, propulsion systems and other new GHG reduction technologies, operating under a Charter approved by the IMO.
  • An International Maritime Research Fund (IMRF) would provide industry financing for the IMRB research and development program, collecting about US$5 billion over a ten-year period via contributions of US$2 per ton of fuel consumed by every ship.
  • Other relevant stakeholders such as energy suppliers, technology companies, research and development institutions and foundations would be welcome to participate and contribute to the International Maritime Research Board and its work.
  • The IMRB is designed to work itself out of a job in 10-15 years by delivering research and development projects that will then allow commercial entities to provide the technologies and services that will move proven technologies into the global fleet by the 2030s, so that the IMO target for 2050 can be achieved.
  • The shipping industry organizations behind the proposal emphasize that the US$2 contribution is not to be seen as a market-based CO2 reduction measure as it would only exist for a defined technical purpose – the acceleration of R&D for zero-carbon propulsion systems.

The shipping industry organizations making this proposal, which collectively represent all sectors and trades and over 90% of the world merchant fleet, are BIMCO, Cruise Lines International Association, INTERCARGO, INTERFERRY, International Chamber of Shipping, INTERTANKO, International Parcel Tankers Association and World Shipping Council.

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