IMO adopts draft text for 50% GHG emissions cut by 2050

The International Maritime Organization has taken what climate campaigners considered a half-hearted approach to greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction, adopting a draft text produced the previous week that will cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2050 compared with 2008 levels. This compares with a more aggressive target of zero emissions by 2050, backed by countries including the Marshall Islands and European countries, while the US, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Argentina had wanted an even lower level of commitment to GHG reduction.

Kitack Lim, IMO secretary-general, claimed that the adoption of the strategy “would allow future IMO work on climate change to be rooted in a solid basis”.

The IMO said it would also be pursuing efforts towards phasing out CO2 emissions entirely.

“The IMO should and could have gone a lot further,” said Bill Hemmings, shipping director with green campaigners Transport & Environment.

Greenpeace International political adviser Veronica Frank said the plan was “far from perfect but the direction is now clear – a phase-out of carbon emissions” She added that “this decarbonization must start now and targets improved along the way”.

BIMCO, Intertanko, and the International Chamber of Shipping backed the more conservative target, with Kathi Stanzel, managing director of tanker association INTERTANKO, terming the plan “both ambitious and concrete”.

EU and the Marshall Islands had backed an emission-cutting target of 70% to 100% percent by 2050, compared with 2008 levels.

The EU appeared to accept the compromise, with EU transport commissioner Violeta Bulc and EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete saying that, while the EU had “sought a higher level of ambition, this is a good starting point that will allow for further review and improvements over time”.

Marshall Islands President Hilda Heine also appeared to accept that a compromise was the only way to get the text through the MEPC. Heine said that “while it may not be enough to give my country the certainty it wanted, it makes it clear that international shipping will now urgently reduce emissions and play its part in giving my country a pathway to survival”.

A final IMO plan is not expected until 2023.

A text produced by the IMO working group andsubmitted to member states said that the initial strategy would not be legally binding for member states, while the text separately pointed to possible medium-term measures to address emissions that could include low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels, improved energy efficiency for new and existing ships and possible market-based mechanisms to encourage the shift to lower-carbon fuels.

The IMO said that its final strategy should be subject to a review in 2028.

International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) secretary general Peter Hinchliffe said it was “a ground-breaking agreement – a Paris Agreement for shipping – that sets a very high level of ambition for the future reduction of CO2 emissions”.

He claimed that the objective was “very ambitious indeed, especially when account is taken of current projections for trade growth as the world’s population and levels of prosperity continue to increase.”

ICS has argued that a 50% total cut by 2050 could realistically only be achieved with the development and very widespread use of zero CO2 fuels. ICS said it believed that if the 50% goal could be met, a wholesale switch by the industry to zero CO2 fuels would follow very swiftly afterwards.

As a result of the IMO agreement, ICS said that it expected discussions at the IMO to begin in earnest on the development of additional CO2 reduction measures, including those to be implemented before 2023.

BIMCO Deputy Secretary General Lars Robert Pedersen said that “the IMO has done something no one has done before: set an absolute target for emission reductions for an entire industry. It is a landmark achievement in the effort to reduce emissions, and something that every other industry should look to for inspiration”. BIMCO declared itself “very satisfied” with the new GHG strategy. Pedersen called the target “ambitious, but not impossible”. BIMCO said that it saw zero carbon emissions as a realistic goal for the second half of this century, but investments in research and technology would be required to get there.

Saudi Arabia and the US were on Thursday the only countries “reserving their position” on the draft text. Argentina and Brazil, which had been vocally fighting the outright reduction target, did not reserve their position on the draft text.

The Clean Shipping Coalition (CSC) said that “progressive states must now use the words ‘at least 50%’ to keep the pressure on for full decarbonization by 2050 so as to avoid the catastrophic climate change that a temperature increase of more than 1.5°C would bring”. 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.”

UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Guy Platten said that the agreement “should be seen as a stepping stone towards decarbonization in the long term – something which must be continue to be a major focus in the years ahead.”

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

John Kornerup Bang, Head of Sustainability Strategy and Shared Value at AP Moller-Maersk, said that “we welcome the new ambitious results, which provide a much needed policy signal that will help accelerate investments into low carbon solutions in shipping”.