The International Maritime Organization, or IMO – the United Nations body responsible for regulating the global shipping industry – concluded two weeks of negotiations on Friday with a OK industry should achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions “around” 2050.
This is an improvement over the previous IMO climate target for the sector – at simply cut emissions in half mid-century – but it has left many conservationists seriously disappointed.
“There is no excuse for this accord of wishes and prayers,” John Maggs, chair of the Clean Shipping Coalition, said in a statement. Others called it a “historic failure” and a “tasteless compromise”.
Negotiators reached the deal on Friday after 10 days of heated talks aimed at addressing the shipping industry’s outsized carbon footprint. Cargo ships, which transport goods and materials across oceans and are responsible for almost all international trade, account for approximately 3% of humanity’s total carbon emissions – in regards to as much as Germany.
In order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) – the target countries agreed in the 2015 Paris Agreement – experts have estimated that the shipping industry must reduce its carbon emissions. 45% by 2030 before reaching close to zero emissions in 2040.
These are the goals that a coalition of Pacific island countries, along with a few allies, including the United States and the United Kingdom, advocated at the IMO summit. “Anything less than 36% by 2030 and 96% by 2040 will be detrimental” to achieving international climate goals, said Marshall Islands negotiator Albon Ishoda. told reporters at the top last week.
Instead, the agreement set a decarbonization deadline of “by or around, i.e. close to 2050”, with the rationale that this would offer greater flexibility to the most developing countries. poor. (Countries will be responsible for setting policies to achieve emission reductions.) The final deal also included interim targets for 2030 and 2040, though they’re far less ambitious than scientists and many think. developing countries hoped. The non-binding agreement calls on the shipping industry to reduce emissions by at least 20% by 2030 and 70% by 2040. It says the industry should continue to “strive” to obtain greater reductions of 30% and 80%.
“Nations have failed to put the shipping industry on a credible 1.5C trajectory,” said Madeline Rose, senior climate campaign director for the nonprofit Pacific Environment. She said the IMO-agreed strategy would deplete the shipping industry’s carbon budget to limit warming to 1.5 degrees by 2032, although governments and shipping companies could take more aggressive action. to prevent this from happening.
Several groups said the only reason there were interim targets was because of a handful of negotiators from small island states, including Vanuatu and the Marshall Islands. These negotiators, whose countries are particularly sensitive to sea-level rise and other climate impacts, achieved firmer goals in the face of strong opposition from oil-exporting countries like Saudi Arabia, which everything to gain from continued dependence on fossil fuels. maritime sector.
Larger developing countries like Brazil and Argentina have also argued that any reduction in climate pollution will cause them disproportionate economic harm, despite evidence to the contrary. A widely cited report released late last month found that existing solutions – some as simple as reducing ship speeds – could reduce global shipping emissions by up to 47% below 2008 levels by 2030, with minimal impacts on global trade.
Other solutions in the report, published by consultancy CE Delft, include the adoption of wind-assisted propulsion technologies and the replacement of 5-10% of ships’ heavy fuel oil with zero-emission alternatives like l green hydrogen and green methanol.
Maggs said countries groundlessly rebutted the report and others as if they were in a “Trumpian, post-truth alternate reality.” He said the shared desire to reach some sort of deal gave obstructionist countries inordinate bargaining power. Delegates were “ready to accept a weak deal,” he said, as long as they produced something by the end of the summit.
In addition to emissions targets, the IMO agreement reached on Friday also includes a “basket of measures” to help them meet the new targets. One is an international fuel standard for greenhouse gases, similar to what the IMO has already adopted for sulfur oxide pollution. The other is a global shipping emissions tax that could generate revenue to fund the shipping industry’s transition away from heavy fuel oil. Both measures are expected to be designed in more detail over the next few years, with implementation expected no later than 2027.
The levy in particular has proven controversial, and many consider its inclusion in the deal a major success. More than 70 developing and developed countries supported it, while Brazil, Argentina, and China, the world’s largest exporter, has led a coalition to oppose it. In a diplomatic note delivered to developing countries last month, Beijing officials said the levy was “a disguised way by developed countries to improve their own competitiveness in the market.”
None of the newly agreed targets by the IMO are mandatory, which means that the responsibility will now lie with Member States for compliance and enforcement. Many conservationists hope national policies will spur the shipping industry to decarbonize faster, though this will likely lead to a more confusing tangle of standards than if the IMO had unified countries around a unique set of scientific objectives. “It’s not ideal,” said Delaine McCullough, marine emissions campaign manager for the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy. “But it has to happen.”
In the United States, for example, the federal government recently introduced Clean Boating Act would set emissions standards for shipping companies that dock at U.S. ports, requiring them to align on a path to net zero by 2040. Other proposed laws like the International Maritime Pollution Liability Actwhich would impose a pollution charge on large ships unloading cargo in US ports, could serve as political models on the international stage.
Individual cities and ports can implement similar regulations themselves, prior to the adoption of federal policies. Freight companies can also act. The shipping giant Maersk, for example, is aiming net zero by 2040 and pledged not to buy new ships unless they could run on carbon neutral fuel. He recently announced the first global effort to retrofit a fossil fuel-powered ship to run on green methanol.
“(L)it is time to act,” Marie Cabbia Hubatova, global director of expeditions for the nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund, said in a statement. “This is our last chance to bring shipping closer to Paris Agreement alignment and set the standard for other hard-to-cut sectors.”