Reactions to the IMO’s Initial Strategy to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships

ship emissions
Photo: By Mr Nai / Shutterstock

Shipping and environmental groups are beginning to react to the IMO’s landmark agreement on an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from global shipping.

The initial strategy was agreed to Friday during the final day of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) 72nd session, held this week at IMO headquarters in London. 

The agreement seeks to cut emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared with 2008 levels. A final IMO plan is not expected until 2023.

While the initial strategy was mostly welcomed as a good starting point, some described it as a political compromise that fell short of more ambitious targets.

Here are some of the reactions from around the industry:

International Chamber of Shipping

ICS Secretary General, Peter Hinchliffe said: “This is a groundbreaking agreement – a Paris Agreement for shipping – that sets a very high level of ambition for the future reduction of CO2 emissions. We are confident this will give the shipping industry the clear signal it needs to get on with the job of developing zero CO2 fuels, so that the entire sector will be in a position to decarbonize completely, consistent with the 1.5 degree climate change goal.”

The ICS said acknowledges that some governments would have preferred to see the adoption of even more aggressive targets, but argues that a 50% total cut by 2050 can realistically only be achieved with the development and very widespread use of zero CO2 fuels. ICS believes that if this 50% goal is successfully met, the wholesale switch by the industry to zero CO2 fuels should therefore follow very swiftly afterwards.

“The industry is very encouraged by the willingness of governments, on all sides of the debate, to co-operate and move to a position that demonstrates unequivocally that IMO is the only body that can meaningfully address the CO2 emissions of international shipping,” Mr Hinchliffe remarked.

BIMCO

BIMCO, the largest shipping association in the world whose members represented 56% of the world’s tonnage, applauded the new strategy. 

“BIMCO is very satisfied with the Green House Gas (GHG) strategy adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) at the Marine Environment Protection Committee,” the association said. 

Lars Robert Pedersen, BIMCO Deputy Secretary General and a delegate at the IMO meeting, called the target ambitious, but not impossible: “In BIMCO we believe that the industry can deliver on this target – even if we don’t exactly know how, yet,” he says.

“The strategy shows that there is only one road ahead, and that is the road towards decarbonisation. The strategy reinforces existing IMO regulations to enhance the energy efficiency of ships and sets out the long-term goals. This will guide the development of new technology and the design of new ships,” Pedersen says.

“Now we have to focus on the mid-to-long term. We have to find the technology and procedures that will drive us towards zero GHG emissions,” Lars Robert Pedersen says.  

BIMCO says it sees zero carbon emissions as a realistic goal for the second half of this century, but investments in research and technology are required to get there.

Clean Shipping Coalition

Today’s commitment by governments was welcomed by the Clean Shipping Coalition, but the group said the lack of any clear plan of action to deliver the emissions reductions, including urgently needed short-term measures, is a major concern.

“After two weeks of difficult talks, countries attending the IMO meeting in London agreed to require the shipping sector to reduce its emissions by “at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008”. This falls short of the 70-100% cut by 2050 that is needed to align shipping with the goals of the Paris agreement. The CSC said progressive states must now use the words “at least” to keep the pressure on for full decarbonisation by 2050 so as to avoid the catastrophic climate change that a temperature increase of more than 1.5°C would bring,” the Clean Coalition said in its response.

John Maggs, president of the CSC and senior policy advisor at 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. Without these the goals of the Paris agreement will remain out of reach.”

Bill Hemmings, shipping director at 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.”

UK Chamber of Shipping

The UK Chamber of Shipping hailed the agreement. 

CEO Guy Platten commented, “This agreement commits the shipping industry to reducing its carbon emissions by at least 50% by 2050.  But crucially this should be seen as a stepping stone towards decarbonisation in the long term – something which must be continue to be a major focus in the years ahead.”

Mr Platten argued that while meeting targets set out in the initial strategy will require significant investment in research and development, they will also create economic opportunities.

“The shipping industry has already made great strides. Battery-powered ferries operate in Scotland, Scandinavia and elsewhere.  Huge investment has gone in to better hydrodynamics, more efficient engines and lower carbon fuels.  But make no mistake, these marginal gains alone are not enough to meet the 50% target, and certainly will not be enough meet the public’s expectations of a more fully decarbonised industry.  

“In truth, there is widespread understanding that in the long-term the industry needs to be powered by carbon-free fuel, and that will almost certainly mean a mix of battery, hydrogen and other zero-carbon fuels.

“Whilst battery and hydrogen cell technology does exist, their current capabilities are not sufficient to become the dominant fuels of the industry at this time.  So research and development is now required on a massive scale,” commented Mr. Platten.

World Shipping Council

The World Shipping Council, an association of liner shipping companies, also applauded the strategy. 

“This week’s action by the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) is important for both political and practical reasons.  In political terms, the agreement demonstrates to the world that IMO Member governments can find a common way forward despite real differences of opinion.  This is a global challenge, and it can only be effectively addressed at a global level.  As a practical matter, the size of the planned emissions cuts makes it clear that the shipping industry can only meet these objectives by a transition over time to new fuels and new propulsion systems.

“The MEPC’s Initial Strategy is a significant achievement, but the real work lies in front of us.  It is now clear that the long-term future of the international shipping industry will not be based on burning fossil fuels.  What is not clear is which technologies and which fuels will allow the industry to continue to serve world trade sustainably in the next half of this century and beyond.

“Moving from where we are now to a new energy profile for the future of shipping will not happen on its own.  The industry faces a substantial engineering challenge to identify, develop, and deploy the new fuels and new technologies that will eliminate carbon emissions from shipping.

“The World Shipping Council and other organizations submitted a paper last year to MEPC describing the need for a substantial, focused, and sustained research and development effort – organized through the IMO – to create the technological tools necessary to implement the ambitious climate goals that the IMO has now articulated.  Through the debate at the IMO, many nations and organizations have emphasized the critical role of research and development.  WSC looks forward to working with Member States and others to turn that shared R&D concept into a reality.

“WSC President and CEO John Butler took the long view on reducing GHG emissions from shipping: “As hard as it was to reach political agreement this week, what comes next will be harder.  We have to shift from a political mindset to an engineering mindset.  There are no quick fixes here, but we can solve this problem.  To do that we must establish a maritime research and development effort that will deliver the tools necessary to transform the industry.  That is the next step for the IMO.””

Maersk

“We welcome the new ambitious results, which provide a much needed policy signal that will help accelerate investments into low carbon solutions in shipping,” said John Kornerup Bang, Head of Sustainability Strategy and Shared Value at A.P. Moller – Maersk, parent company to the world’s largest container shipping line.

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