UN climate deal for shipping will fail without ambitious 2030 goal, say advocates

The International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) agreement on shipping climate targets expected next month could be the starting gun for the radical climate action our planet desperately needs.

Civil society groups are calling on the IMO member states to urgently support halving climate pollution from ships by 2030 and reaching zero-emission by 2040, at the Intersessional Working Group on Greenhouse Gases (ISWG-GHG-15). Given the disproportionate impacts of climate change felt in vulnerable and developing states already today, the IMO must also guarantee that this transition is just and equitable.

While a majority of governments have previously agreed to revise the IMO’s existing climate target to absolute zero-emissions by 2050, bringing the industry closer than ever before to the Paris Agreement, a mid-century ambition is not enough to decarbonize shipping within Paris’ 1.5°C temperature limit.

The world’s leading climate scientists have repeatedly warned that steep and immediate reduction in emissions across industries is the only way to avert the global temperature rise beyond 1.5°C, and it is the only way humanity can secure a livable future.

Ambitious targets for 2030 and 2040 are vital for determining future IMO climate policy measures that will be key to deliver shipping’s transition to zero emissions, such as action on short-term pollutants (methane and black carbon), mandatory slow-steaming, a carbon levy of at least $100/ton of greenhouse gas and a fuel greenhouse gas standard.

John Maggs, Clean Shipping Coalition, said: “We have everything we need to steer international shipping and the world to a safer, fairer future. The science is unequivocal and the steps we need to take are clear, and it all starts at the IMO this month, when the world must, for the first time, unequivocally set the industry on a path that will keep it within the Paris Agreement 1.5°C temperature limit, including halving its emissions by 2030.”

Lucy Gilliam, Seas At Risk, said: “We are facing climate disaster after climate disaster around the world. Forests are burning, oceans are overheating and crops are failing. It’s clear governments urgently need to cut emissions now. By setting strong climate targets for 2030 and 2040 at the IMO, shipping can play its part in limiting the climate crisis and unlock incredible economic opportunities and much needed climate finance. We can do this!”

Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment, said: “The luxury boat of zero-by-2050 has long sailed. We only have one lifeboat left, and that is deep emissions cuts this decade and pretty much full decarbonization by 2040. There is no other way. That’s why the EU and IMO must adopt the SBTi compatible decarbonization pathway for shipping; that means at least 36% emissions cuts by 2030 and at least 96% by 2040.”

Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy, said: “This is the last moment for the IMO to act decisively to eliminate shipping emissions as the pace of climate change and its catastrophic impacts continues to accelerate. Countries can also advance a clean shipping transition at home, such as what the United States is doing with legislation on the table that would curb shipping emissions and reduce air pollution. 

“We need countries to demand that the IMO set strong emission reduction goals of 50% by 2030 and 100% by 2040 and to take action at home, if the IMO fails to do the right thing.” 

Jim Gamble, Pacific Environment, said: “In the Arctic, the signs of climate change are everywhere. Sea ice and permafrost are melting, and communities are falling into the sea – threatening the health and safety of both people and wildlife. It’s past time for the shipping industry to clean up and decarbonize to align with the 1.5°C transition and move to zero-emission shipping no later than 2040. 

“The shipping industry could move now on measures like improving the energy and operational efficiency of vessels, slow-steaming, electrification, and wind-assisted propulsion.”

Daniele Rao, Carbon Market Watch, said: “IMO member states must support concrete and ambitious emissions reduction targets for 2030 and 2040 to align the shipping sector with the Paris Agreement. Setting these targets is critical for future strong IMO climate measures, such as a carbon levy of at least $100, that will help the sector to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while supporting the most vulnerable countries in a just and equitable way.”

Photo credit: iStock/Suphanat Khumsap

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