Global Shipping Agrees to 2050 net-zero deadline

Delegates at the opening of a session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee at the International Maritime Organisation's headquarters in London. Photo: IMO

The international maritime industry has committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by or around 2050, following a conference of the UN's International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London. This commitment represents a significant step, as the industry had previously set a goal of halving emissions by 2050. Under the newly adopted guidelines, the industry aims for emissions reductions of at least 20% (striving for 30%) by 2030 and at least 70% (striving for 80%) by 2040 compared to the 2008 baseline.

Shipping is responsible for roughly 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, a level similar to aviation, which is also aiming for net-zero emissions by 2050. However, the vast majority of cargo ships are powered by diesel, making emissions reduction a significant challenge. During the conference, calls were made for the industry to achieve peak emissions from international shipping as soon as possible and work towards net-zero emissions by 2050, aligning with the 1.5°C temperature goal of the Paris Agreement. The conference also adopted a new reporting regime for fuel use by the largest ships.

While the outcome of the conference was hailed as monumental by some, including the IMO's head, Kitack Lim, observers expressed concerns that the commitments fell short. Some called for the introduction of a global shipping levy to incentivize investment in zero-emission fuels and vessels, emphasizing the need for more aggressive measures to achieve emissions reductions in line with climate goals. Developing nations also reiterated their demand for a greenhouse gas levy on ships to encourage change and compensate for the impacts of climate change.

Cargo ships lined up outside the Port of Los Angeles. Maritime nations are finalising a plan to slash emissions from the shipping industry. AP

The emissions reduction targets agreed upon in the conference fall significantly short of what is necessary to ensure that global warming stays below the 1.5°C threshold, according to John Maggs, president of the environmental Clean Shipping Coalition. The 175-member group now essentially has a structured strategy for reducing emissions, although the agreed-upon language specifies indicative checkpoints for reductions by 2030, 2040, and sometime around 2050 rather than absolute targets.

The possibility of implementing an emissions price mechanism is now being considered by the IMO's working committees, and there are new important benchmarks for the intensity of greenhouse gases in maritime fuels.

Bo Cerup-Simonsen of the Maersk Mc-Kinney Moller Centre for Zero Carbon Shipping pointed out that achieving a stronger alignment with the Paris Agreement would require more aggressive emissions reductions, such as a 45% reduction by 2030. Despite these concerns, some stakeholders view the strategy as a significant step in the right direction.


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