Maritime transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 annually and is responsible for about 2.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (3rd IMO GHG study).

These emissions are projected to increase significantly if mitigation measures are not put in place swiftly. According to the 3rd IMO GHG study, shipping emissions could under a business-as-usual scenario increase between 50% and 250% by 2050, undermining the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

The meeting of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London last week, criticized in advance in some sections of the media, to discuss how the global shipping industry can reduce or eliminate harmful emissions, has agreed that setting goals are the best way to decarbonize in the short-term.

The IMO Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships has made significant progress in pushing forward with work to help achieve the ambitious targets set out in the initial IMO strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships, which aims, as a matter of urgency, to decarbonize international shipping in this century.

IMO is committed to working to combat climate change, in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 on climate action

Nothing the IMO ever decides is managed quickly, the fact that so many nations are involved always means there are dissenting voices or at least some reluctance to change the status quo. However, in a few weeks, the mandatory sulfur cap will come into force and is a sign that the IMO recognizes the world is changing.

Eventually, after extensive discussions, it became clear that the assembly had no appetite for prescriptive speed reduction regulation and that a mandatory goal-based approach will provide the needed flexibility and incentive for continued innovation across the industry and will be the best way to reduce emissions.

Two methods, in line with the industry’s proposal, were recognized: a technical and an operational approach. It was agreed that the two approaches would be further refined, and their implementation and enforcement would also be developed at the next meeting in London next year. Commenting on the agreement, UK Chamber of Shipping Policy Director Anna Ziou said:

“The UK Chamber of Shipping has been clear that tackling climate change and reducing emissions is a top priority for us and we welcome the positive outcome of this meeting. The progress made sets the right direction of travel and is a good foundation for the IMO’s work to put the strategy into action.

“However, there is still a lot to be done and we encourage all parties to show at the next meeting the same level of cooperation and come forward with constructive ideas to make sure that we deliver the ambitions of the IMO Green House Gas strategy.”

Next meetings

The sixth session of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships met 11-15 November at IMO Headquarters in London, United Kingdom. It was attended by nearly 400 representatives from nearly 70 Member States, as well as from the UNFCCC, the European Commission, the League of Arab States and around 30 non-governmental organizations.

To keep up the momentum, a further seventh meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships will be held 23-27 March 2020. This is just before and back to back with the next Marine Environment Protection Committee session, MEPC 75 (30 March to 3 April 2020). The MEPC is the decision-making body.

The MEPC is also expected to establish a Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships, to meet during the MEPC session.

MEPC 76 is scheduled to meet 19-23 October 2020. MEPC 76 is expected to receive the completed Fourth IMO GHG Study.

Fourth IMO GHG Study

The Fourth IMO GHG Study will include the following:

  • Inventory of current global emissions of GHGs and relevant substances emitted from ships of 100 GT and above engaged in international voyages. The inventory should include total annual GHG emission series from 2012 to 2018, or as far as statistical data are available.
  • GHGs are defined as the six gases initially considered under the UNFCCC process: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6). The inventory should also include other relevant substances that may contribute to climate change, including Black Carbon (BC).
  • Estimates of carbon intensity (estimates of world fleet’s CO2 emissions per transport work, from 2012 to 2018, or as far as statistical data are available).
  • Possible estimates of the carbon intensity of international shipping for the year 2008 (the baseline year for the levels of ambition identified in the Initial Strategy).
  • Scenarios for future international shipping emissions 2018-2050

(The previous, Third IMO GHG Study, was published in 2014).

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