UK Government calls for 'absolute zero' emissions goal for global shipping sector

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has called on the global maritime sector to agree on an "absolute zero" emissions target by 2050, as the UK looks set to host a demonstration week for the future of shipping.

Shipping is currently responsible for around 3% of global CO2e emissions

Shipping is currently responsible for around 3% of global CO2e emissions

The Transport Secretary made the call ahead of Monday’s (13 September) launch of the London International Shipping Week.

Shapps has proposed that an absolute zero target is discussed during the week and then debated at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO's) Marine Environment Protection Committee in November. The IMO has a current plan in place to reduce emissions and decarbonise the shipping industry to net-zero by 2050.

"As a maritime nation with a rich history, and host of COP26 this year, we are proud to be at the forefront of the greener era for maritime, charting an international course for the future of clean shipping," Shapps said.

"I'm incredibly excited by the changes happening in this sector, with the speed of progress highlighted by the prospect of zero-emission commercial vessels in UK waters in the next few years and green Channel crossings within a decade. Taking action now allows us to lead the charge on this global shift, creating highly skilled jobs for British workers and shaping the landscape for what clean shipping and trade will look like for future generations."

The call comes after the Government agreed to include emissions from shipping and aviation as part of its Sixth Carbon Budget to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. Historically, the Government’s emissions reduction efforts only accounted for emissions on a “territorial” basis and therefore only includes those within the UK’s borders, a decision that has drawn criticism from green groups.

Additionally, the UK's Transport Decarbonisation Plan sets out how the Government will decarbonise every mode of transport. The Plan pledges to “plot a course to net-zero” for the UK domestic maritime sector. This looks set to include indicative targets from 2030 and to reach net-zero “as early as is feasible”.

As part of the Plan, the Government will consult on a planned phase-out on the sale of new non-zero emission domestic vessels and will extend the Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation (RTFO) to support renewable fuels of non-biological origin used in shipping.

Internationally, the Plan will see the UK press for greater ambition during the 2023 review of the International Maritime Organisation’s Initial Greenhouse Gas Strategy and urge accelerated decarbonisation.

At the International Maritime Organisation’s latest meeting in November, members voted in favour of amending measures designed to limit the carbon intensity of ships. While proponents say the measures will make each ship more efficient, the general consensus is that the rule will leave loopholes for the sector as a whole to increase emissions through to 2030.

Shipping is currently responsible for around 3% of global CO2e emissions, but researchers for the European Parliament believe this proportion could rise to 17.5% by mid-century without a step-change in approach. 

According to research from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), emissions from the global shipping sector will grow by 14% by 2030 if the amendment is formally adopted next year. Without the amendment, the body predicts a 15% rise.

Last year, a coalition representing more than 120 large maritime, energy and infrastructure businesses has published a blueprint for bringing zero-emission shipping innovations to scale.

The Getting to Zero Coalition’s industry blueprint outlines how policy changes and targeted action from businesses and the finance sector can be made in tandem, to reduce the total costs of the world’s first commercial-scale, zero-emission shipping pilots by 30%-50%.

Matt Mace



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