This month the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) decided that by 2040, the world’s shipping fleet must reduce its total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by more than 70% compared to the levels recorded in 2008. Prior to this decision, the IMO’s target was a 50% reduction of carbon emissions compared to the levels in 2008.
We review the output of the IMO’s 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) meeting that took place from 3-7 July 2023. One of the significant items on the agenda for the MEPC 80 session was the adoption of an enhanced strategy for greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction by the shipping industry worldwide.
MEPC 80 Strengthens Collective Goal of Achieving Net Zero
During the MEPC 80, the IMO of the United Nations adopted an updated strategy to reduce carbon emissions in global shipping. Participating countries agreed to establish indicative milestones, aiming for a minimum 20% emissions reduction by 2030 and at least 70% by 2040, with the ultimate goal of achieving net-zero emissions “by or around 2050”, depending on each nation’s specific circumstances.
These indicative checkpoints hold significant importance in formulating the measures for implementation. The 2040 target is designed to steer the course towards attaining the net-zero GHG emissions goal by 2050, especially considering that 2040 is a mere 17 years away. Notably, ships currently under construction will remain operational during this timeframe. As the industry undergoes substantial transformations, it is expected that mandatory measures will be formulated by 2025 to facilitate the execution of the decarbonisation pathway, including increasing the utilisation of zero or near-zero GHG emissions technologies, fuels, and energy sources. Further emphasising the forthcoming changes that the industry will experience in the coming years.
Concerns About MEPC 80 Shortcomings Have Been Reported
Although there is widespread acknowledgment that the UN agency has successfully attained essential consensus on the future actions for decarbonising shipping, certain maritime stakeholders have expressed disappointment over what they perceive as a lack of ambition in the text of the IMO’s revised strategy. For it to be considered successful and uphold the commitments of the Paris accord, it needed to incorporate emission targets for 2030 and 2040 that align with the scientifically recommended trajectory of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Furthermore, it required an agreement to phase out all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions no later than 2050, ensuring support for all nations, particularly those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
Unfortunately, despite extensive discussions, the progress made was inadequate in securing a target of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius for international shipping. The IMO reached a weak consensus on a net-zero emissions target to be achieved “close to 2050” and only suggestive targets for 2030 and 2040.
Under the influence of China, Saudi Arabia (facing the imminent threat of uninhabitable deserts), and Brazil (witnessing rapid deforestation of its rainforests), the emission reduction targets suffered severe weakening, reducing them to mere “indicative checkpoints” hinged upon “national circumstances.” To align with the ambitious 1.5°C targets set by the Paris Agreement, far more substantial cuts of 40% by 2030 and 90% by 2040 would be required.