Anger as IMO approves deal that will let shipping emissions rise through 2030

Green groups and ministers have expressed anger and disappointment after the UN's shipping body approved measures which will let emissions from the sector grow for another decade.

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

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

At the International Maritime Organisation’s latest meeting on Wednesday (18 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.

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.

The IMO’s overarching long-term climate target is to halve emissions from the sector, against a 2008 baseline, by 2050. The IICT claims that a 15% decrease in emissions will be needed by 2030 if the sector is to stay on track. 

The UK’s Shadow Minister for Climate Change, Matthew Pennycook, called the decision “lamentable”.

In a tweet, he wrote: “Our government could and should have done more to secure a better outcome. As the host of COP26, we must up our game. The world is watching.”

Marine charity Pacific Environment similarly called the policy a “dereliction of duty in the face of the climate emergency”. Paris Agreement architect Laurence Trubiana had been urging national representatives not to back the amendments unless they were made stricter. 

Historically, media representatives, world leaders and ministers have been prevented from publicly disclosing how each particular nation voted at IMO meetings. Green groups successfully called for this restriction to be lifted in so that organisations and individuals can hold their representatives accountable. It has been reported that the UK and most EU member states voted in favour of the amendments.

Far from smooth sailing

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. It is clear that businesses, nations and trade bodies all have a role to play.

On the latter, The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents 80% of the global shipping industry, is proposing a $2 levy on every tonne of fuel consumed by ships. This would raise $500m a year that would be devoted to research and development of zero-carbon vessels, including those powered by green hydrogen.

The Getting to Zero Coalition, supported by the World Economic Forum, the Global Maritime Forum and Friends of Ocean Action, is urging governments to provide direct grants and co-investment in zero-emission pilots, as well as broader policy supports like a reduction in electricity taxes and grid fees and a stronger long-term carbon pricing trajectory.

Sarah George


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