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Shipping Industry Outlines Roadmap to Achieve Net Zero CO2 Emissions by 2050

Mike Schuler
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October 6, 2021

A shipping industry trade group representing over 80% of the world’s merchant fleet has proposed a bold new plan to help the industry achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050, doubling the ambition of the International Maritime Organization’s target.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) submitted plans to the industry’s UN regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), detailing urgent measures which governments must take to help the industry achieve net zero CO2 by 2050.

Currently, shipping is estimated to emit almost 3% of global CO2 emissions.

Just one month ahead of the shipping industry’s flagship COP26 decarbonization conference (‘Shaping the Future of Shipping’), the ICS is pushing governments to double the ambition of the IMO’s current target, which is to reduce emissions from international shipping by 50% by 2050.

The plans include a mandatory R&D fund to develop zero-carbon technologies, and the development of a carbon tax for shipping to expedite the transition to more expensive zero-carbon fuels.

In its submission, shipping accepts the vital need to accelerate decarbonization timelines. But it also states that a net zero target by 2050 will only be achievable if governments take the necessary actions. To facilitate this, the industry has taken the unique step of setting out the specific measures that governments must be take to make decarbonization by 2050 a reality.

“Talk is cheap, and action is difficult. So, our net zero offering sets out the ‘how’ as well as the ‘what’ for decarbonising shipping by 2050. We’re saying to governments that if they really want to reach net zero, they need to move from empty commitments to tangible action,” says Esben Poulsson, Chairman of ICS.

“A net zero carbon ambition is achievable by 2050. But only provided governments take the unglamorous but urgent decisions needed to manage this process within a global regulatory framework,” he adds.

The ICS says the adoption by IMO of a net zero target will send a very strong message sought by the industry, as well as energy providers, shipbuilders and engine manufacturers, so that investments in green fuels and technology can be accelerated and scaled.

Given the typical 25-year life of new ocean-going ships, thousands of zero-emission ships will need to be in the water by 2030 if the industry is to meet an ambitious net zero target.

Therefore, it is critical for the IMO to adopt those urgent measures required to accelerate an increase in what it calls “Technology Readiness Levels”. A key step is for governments to approve the establishment of the $5 billion IMO-backed R&D fund, known as the International Maritime Research Fund (IMRF), at a critical IMO meeting in November, just two weeks after COP 26.

This call supports the IMRF proposal which will provide guaranteed levels of funding to accelerate the development of zero emission ships, without requiring governments to use taxpayers’ money. Rather, the IMRF will be funded by mandatory R&D contributions from shipowners globally, via a $2 tax per metric of marine fuel consumed, which the shipping industry wants in place by 2023, says the ICS.

To expedite the transition to net zero, ICS has also made a comprehensive proposal setting out the framework for a broader carbon tax applicable to shipping, which will be considered by IMO Member States at a meeting in mid-October, to help close the price gap between zero-carbon and conventional fuels. This could be used to provide the billions of dollars needed to deploy new bunkering infrastructure required in ports worldwide and ensure consistency in the industry’s green transition, for both developed and developing economies, in the run up to 2050.

“We have expended a great deal of senior industry leaders time deliberating and analyzing the most effective and equitable proposals to ensure that we can decarbonize our industry quickly and effectively,” says John Adams, Chairman of the ICS GHG measures working group. “If adopted by governments at the IMO, these measures could lead to regulation that will swiftly move the shipping sector and associated industries towards a zero-carbon future.”

“Governments can make a huge statement of their intent to get behind this new timeline by approving the industry’s proposed $5 billion R&D fund in November at the IMO,” says Adams

The proposal also includes plans for the sharing of intellectual property among industry innovators in zero carbon technologies, to accelerate the pace of change within shipping.

“This is a unique case of an industry demanding to be more tightly regulated on carbon emissions, and putting its hand up to do the grunt work of getting there. We’re not trying to win headlines – we’re trying to reach net zero,” adds Guy Platten, Secretary General at ICS.

“If a net zero target is to be more than a political gesture, governments need to recognise the magnitude of the challenge of phasing-out CO2 emissions from large oceangoing ships. Only these proposed measures can tackle the innovation and knowledge gap, and challenges of a global equitable transition, that shipping’s decarbonization presents,” Platten says.

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