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Global shipping sector agrees historic greenhouse gas emissions plan

BREAKING: IMO formally adopts deal brokered by national governments that would target 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2050 – but challenges lie ahead The global shipping industry has agreed its first ever greenhouse gas reduction plan at the London HQ of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) today, having reached a compromise that would see the sector halve its 2008 emissions by the middle of the century. Fraught climate talks at the IMO this week[1] have seen national governments attempting to thrash out a deal over how ambitious the sector should be in reducing its climate impact.

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Shipping is the last major global industry without a comprehensive climate plan, after the aviation sector agreed a cabron offsetting scheme in 2016[2].

Its emissions are not covered under the Paris Agreement. This afternoon the IMO formally adopted an interim climate strategy with the backing of more than 170 national governments, after many opponents to an emissions cap relented over the course of the week-long negotiations. Although not nearly as ambitious as many delegates and green campaigners had hoped, the compromise reached on the climate plan has been widely welcomed by industry figures and policy makers.

Dr. Hilda Heine, President of the Marshall Islands – one of key a group of climate-vulnerable nations campaigning for an ambitious shipping emissions goal – said the IMO had today “made history”. “While it may not be enough to give my country the certainty it wanted, it makes it clear that international shipping will now urgently reduce emissions and play its part in giving my country a pathway to survival,” she said in a statement. “This deal helps make every country a little safer, but even with a landmark sectoral cap and clear targets to reduce emissions consistent with the Paris Agreement, we will need to improve it over time in line with the latest science.”

As well as an outright emissions cap, the strategy sets a carbon intensity reduction target – the amount of emissions relative to each tonne of shipping cargo – of at least 40 per cent by 2030, rising to 70 per cent by 2050. It also includes plans for a review of energy efficiency design requirements for ships, and to develop incentives to boost research on low carbon shipping technologies and fuels. However, the final target to cut emissions by 50 per cent by 2050, against 2008 levels, is much weaker than that sought by IMO delegations such as the EU, which had called for a 70-100 per cent cut in emissions.

The initial strategy also only sets out a general ambition for the sector, with no formal obligation for parties to meet the emissions goal. The final strategy will be released in 2023, the IMO promised. Experts warn that a 50 per cent target is not nearly enough to keep the sector in line with the 1.5C or even 2C temperature ambitions set out in the Paris Agreement, which would require a goal close to net zero emissions from shipping by 2050.

IMO studies have estimated that greenhouse gases from international shipping accounted for around 2.2 per cent of the world’s entire man made emissions in 2012, and that these emissions are likely to grow between 50 per cent and 250 per cent by the middle of the century as trade increases.

The EU had therefore threatened to enforce its own emissions targets on ships entering the region’s waters buy 2023 unless the IMO takes strong enough action on its own, but a number of nations – such as Saudi Arabia, Brazil and India – were resistant, fearing that an emissions cap could adversely impact on trade.

Having agreed overall ambition for the shipping, the IMO will now set about on implementing the targets, which like UN-wide climate talks, is likely to see a division of responsibility between richer and poorer nations.


  1. ^ at the IMO this week (www.businessgreen.com)
  2. ^ agreed a cabron offsetting scheme in 2016 (www.businessgreen.com)

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