IMO agrees historic deal to cut carbon in shipping sector

GHG emissions to be slashed by 'at least' 50% on 2008 levels by 2050 with emphasis on scaling up action to 100%.

The International Maritime Organization's (IMO) headquarters in London. Image credit: Andrew Bowden Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Updated on 13 Apr 2018 15:21 GMT

Over 170 member states at the International Maritime Organization's (IMO) 72nd Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting reached an agreement on Friday to reduce shipping greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 'at least' 50 percent on 2008 levels by 2050 with a strong emphasis on scaling up action to 100 percent by mid-century.

The decision - reached after two weeks of intense negotiations at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) - sends a clear signal to the industry - that a clear switch away from fossil fuels is now on the cards.

Meeting this target means that in the 2030s, most newly built ocean-going vessels will run on zero-carbon renewable fuels.

While a few specific objections were made, even the countries with the most ships registered to them supported the deal, and only two countries opposed the text outright.

Early reactions

Dr Tristan Smith, Reader in Energy and Shipping, UCL Energy Institute, said: "The International Maritime Organization's commitment to reduce GHG by 50 to 100 percent in 2050 is major progress; the world's shipping industry has now, for the first time, defined its commitment to tackle climate change, bringing it closer in-line with the Paris Agreement.

"It is likely this target will tighten further, but even with the lowest level of ambition, the shipping industry will require rapid technological changes to produce zero-emission ships, moving from fossil fuels, to a combination of electricity (batteries), renewable fuels derived from hydrogen, and potentially bioenergy.

"While such changes are massive for a global industry, which has a fleet of over 50,000 ships trading internationally, UK-led research has shown that with the correct level of investment and better regulation, these reductions can be achieved."

John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy advisor, Seas At Risk, remarked: "We have an important agreement, and this level of ambition will ultimately require a sector-wide shift to new fuels and propulsion technologies, but what happens next is crucial. The IMO must move swiftly to introduce measures that will cut emissions deeply and quickly in the short-term. Without these the goals of the Paris agreement will remain out of reach."

Sveinung Oftedal, chair of the Greenhouse Gas negotiations at the IMO, Norwegian Government: commented: "Like Apollo 11 returning to Earth, we knew we needed to land and we did."

Bill Hemmings, shipping director, Transport & Environment, said: "The IMO should and could have gone a lot further but for the dogmatic opposition of some countries led by Brazil, Panama, Saudi Arabia. Scant attention was paid to US opposition. So this decision puts shipping on a promising track. It has now officially bought into the concept of decarbonisation and the need to deliver in-sector emission reductions, which is central to fulfilling the Paris agreement."

Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO, said: "The text may not be satisfactory to all but it represents a strong middle ground... In this context I believe this compromise text is a solution that should be able to keep everyone on board... [The text sends a] strong signal to industry and you as member states are tackling this with the same commitment you have given to the Paris Agreement."

Enemo Amaechi, Chief Legal Officer, Office of the APR-IMO, Nigeria High Commission "Climate change is already having an impact on Nigeria. Greenhouse gas emissions are a real threat. A 50 percent cut [in shipping sector GHG emissions] by 2050 is ok. We know it will not be easy for us, in terms of the impact on trade, but we are ready to go ahead. It must be done."

David Paul, environment minister, Republic of the Marshall Islands, said: "This is a fair deal and by adopting this initial strategy which contains a vision to phase out GHG and set an absolute and landmark cap on emissions the international shipping sector will embark on a transition to a low emission future, where shipping can grow sustainably and maintain its role as the backbone of global trade."