Contentious “Environmental Summit” Produces New Regulations

This month saw a major development from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), with an agreement that will affect the global shipping industry over the next decade.

The IMO’s Intersessional Working Group on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships met for a full week online, and member states agreed to reduce, by 2030, the carbon footprint of shipping by 40% compared to 2008 levels. This has been an existing target, but the working group recommends that it be legally binding. The new agreement also specifically addresses both how the ship is retrofitted and equipped, and how the ship operates.

IMO member states were extremely divided over the issue. While most countries preferred the 40% reduction, a significant number of member states fought for more stringent targets highlighting that scientists warn that we have ten years at most to keep global warming within 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels and avert a disastrous impact on nature and humanity.

The global shipping industry accounts for over 90% of world trade and more than one billion tons of greenhouse-gas emissions (GHG) per year. With a steep enough target—many experts call for reducing CO2 intensity by as much as 80% by 2030—the shipping industry can both achieve emissions reductions in line with the Paris climate agreement and accommodate further growth in global trade.

The draft text now moves to the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which meets November 16–20 and is expected to adopt the recommendations from the working group. The IMO has until 2026 to develop further amendments to the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

The shipping industry itself is in many ways ahead of the member states that are blocking progress at the IMO. Under the auspices of the Getting to Zero coalition, more than 120 major companies are already working to commercialize zero-emission vessels within the next ten years, with others choosing to adopt decarbonization practices and technologies ahead of regulators.

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11-03-2020 at 1:56