United Nations International Maritime Organization agrees to reach net zero “by or around” 2050

Maritime shipping is responsible for 3% of global anthropogenic Greenhouse House Gas emissions, says the IPCC's 2022 report
Photo: @IMOHQ / Twitter
Photo: @IMOHQ / Twitter

Maritime countries upgraded their Greenhouse House Gas (GHG) emissions strategy to reach net zero “by or around” 2050 without specifying a definite year  and taking into account different national circumstances, at the conclusion of the summit of the United Nations International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London on July 7, 2023.

While a firm timeline was not decided, “The adoption of the 2023 IMO Greenhouse Gas Strategy is a monumental development for IMO and opens a new chapter towards maritime decarbonization,” IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said in a press release.

The draft document agreed upon by member nations says to peak GHG emissions from international shipping “as soon as possible.” This is to limit the global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius as outlined in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the international treaty on climate change.

The 2023 IMO GHG Strategy adopted calls for the international shipping industry “to reduce the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 20%, striving for 30%, by 2030, compared to 2008.”

It also urged the industry “to reduce the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 70%, striving for 80%, by 2040, compared to 2008.”

The document said near-zero emission technologies, fuels, and energy sources should “represent at least 5%, striving for 10%, of the energy used by international shipping by 2030.”

On July 6, the IMO adopted an interim guidance which said that internationally certified biofuel and bio-blends can be used in the shipping industry. This resolution was backed aggressively by India at the conference.

Due to public sector oil companies’ recent pursuit of biofuels, Indian delegate Ajithkumar Sukumaran, also the Additional Director General of Shipping, told Press Trust of India, “We expect a major scale-up in production and India could become a leading supplier of biofuels to the shipping industry.”

The revised strategy also says that the carbon intensity of international shipping should decline to reduce CO2 emissions “per transport work”, on average by at least 40 per cent by 2030, compared to 2008 baseline levels.

The IMO document, for the first time, spoke about implementing measures to enable a just transition for seafarers and other maritime workforce “that leaves no one behind.”

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2022 report, maritime shipping is responsible for three per cent of global anthropogenic GHG emissions and these emissions are continuing to grow rapidly.

The IMO’s own estimates in 2020 say that a business-as-usual scenario would see shipping emissions increase more than five-fold by 2050 if the shipping industry fails to act now.

Harjeet Singh, head of the global political strategy for Climate Action Network International, said the UN IMO has charted a course toward emission reduction, but unfortunately had falled short of expectations.

“There is a clear disparity between its goals and those set by the Paris Agreement’s crucial 1.5C target — a divergence that we can ill-afford,” said Singh.

The Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) — 80th session was held at the IMO headquarters from July 3-7.

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