IMO agrees to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

Lester Mason
April 16, 2018

The Marshall Islands is home to the world's second biggest ship registry and has been at the forefront of efforts to lobby for emissions reductions at the International Maritime Organisation.

"The initial strategy agreed by MEPC 72 is the first of its kind, not only because it goes well beyond the Paris Agreement with the introduction of quantitative targets, but also because, in doing so, shipping becomes the first industry to adopt such concrete global goals for the reduction of its total GHG emissions".

Members of the UN International Maritime Organisation on Friday struck a deal to halve carbon dioxide emissions from shipping by 2050 in a deal that will force the industry to redesign fleets. The meeting was attended by more than 100 IMO Member States.

In a joint statement, European Commissioners Violeta Bulc and Miguel Arias Cañete welcomed the agreement as a "significant step forward" in efforts to combat global warming across the globe, although the EU had initially hoped for stronger commitments.

The meeting set out a vision to cut GHG emissions from shipping by at least 50 percent by 2050, seemingly a more ambitious target than had been anticipated, although less than the 70 percent pursued by the EU.

The commissioners said: "While the European Union had sought a higher level of ambition, this [strategy] is a good starting point that will allow for further review and improvements over time..."

Expectations are that over the next few years this target will be tightened and brought closer in line with the Paris Agreement commitments.

"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", he said.

While he admitted that such changes are "massive" for a global industry with over 50,000 ships trading internationally, Smith said these reductions can be achieved "with the correct level of investment and better regulation".

John Maggs, President of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy advisor, Seas At Risk, said, "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".

Experts say that the compromise is not in keeping with the Paris climate agreement goal of keeping temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celcius.

The initial strategy represents a framework for Member States, setting out the future vision for worldwide shipping, the levels of ambition to reduce GHG emissions and guiding principles; and includes candidate short-, mid- and long-term further measures with possible timelines and their impacts on States.

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