IMO Agrees to CO2 Emissions Target

Delegates at MEPC 72 (IMO)

Published Apr 13, 2018 7:23 PM by The Maritime Executive

After several years of negotiations, the IMO has reached an agreement on an "initial strategy" for the reduction of CO2 emissions from shipping. 

On Friday, the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) announced that member state delegates have agreed on a target to cut the shipping sector's overall CO2 output by 50 percent by 2050, to begin emissions reductions as soon as possible, and to pursue efforts to phase out carbon emissions entirely. The agreement includes a reference to bringing shipping in line with the Paris Climate Agreement's temperature goal, which seeks to limit global warming to "well below" two degrees Celcius.  

The 50 percent CO2 reduction goal is roughly in line with the proposal endorsed by the International Chamber of Shipping. In addition to the percentage target, the initial strategy also includes strengthening the EEDI efficiency requirements for new ships and reducing shipping's carbon intensity - that is, the amount of CO2 emitted for each unit of transport work completed. 

While it creates goals for future action, the MEPC's "initial strategy" does not give a timetable for rolling out legal restrictions on CO2 output. Rather, it is a "framework for member states" that sets out "levels of ambition to reduce GHG emissions and guiding principles," the IMO said in a statement. 

The IMO says that the agreement will be revised by 2023, in accordance with a "roadmap" passed in 2016. The "roadmap" calls for a fourth and fifth round of IMO greenhouse gas studies from 2019-2022, which would be carried out before creating any regulations.

The "initial strategy" announced Friday was not easy to reach. MEPC has deferred a decision on a reduction plan for carbon emissions before, and as late as Thursday there were reports that at least two member states might move to block the proposal. A group of nine states had called for MEPC to take no action on CO2.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said in a statement that Friday's agreement was a solid basis for future efforts. “I encourage you to continue your work through the newly adopted Initial GHG Strategy which is designed as a platform for future actions," Lim told delegates. "I am confident in relying on your ability to relentlessly continue your efforts and develop further actions that will soon contribute to reducing GHG emissions from ships.”

A working group will meet to develop a program of action on CO2 emissions and will report on its findings at the next session of the MEPC in late October. 

Reactions from the shipping community

The International Chamber of Shipping hailed the initial strategy as a historic moment for the industry. “This is a ground breaking agreement – a Paris Agreement for shipping – that sets a very high level of ambition for the future reduction of CO2 emissions," said ICS Secretary General Peter Hinchliffe. ICS added that it hopes the IMO action is enough to "discourage those who mistakenly advocate regional measures," referring to an EU threat to impose its CO2 Emissions Trading Scheme on shipping. 

Denmark's maritime lobby, Danish Shipping, echoed ICS' view. "I am very pleased that the IMO countries shouldered responsibility and did not leave the shipping industry to be continuously criticized for lack of regulation and in that case, take the consequences of, for example, regional regulation from the EU," said Maria Skipper Schwenn, Executive Director at Danish Shipping.

The European Community Shipowners' Association said that it fully supports the initial strategy. "This is a very important signal for the shipping industry and the maritime cluster to work full steam ahead to reduce GHG emissions," said Panos Laskaridis, president of ECSA.

Shipping association BIMCO said that it is "very satisfied" with the initial strategy. “In BIMCO we believe that the industry can deliver on this target – even if we don’t exactly know how, yet,” said Lars Robert Pedersen, BIMCO's deputy secretary general. "It is a landmark achievement in the effort to reduce emissions."

The International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO)'s technical director, Dragos Rauta, said that the decision announced Friday was a sign of IMO’s "determination to pursue a tough line." He said that INTERTANKO would continue to contribute to the implementation of the strategy. 

The International Association of Ports and Harbors said that the MEPC's strategy was less ambitious than it had hoped for, but was still a valuable agreement. “Whilst thriving on shipping business, many ports are vulnerable to climate change and invest heavily in making their infrastructure resilient for the future. That is why IAPH initially supported the proposal of Marshall Islands . . . to aim for a total reduction of 70 to 100 percent by 2050," said IAPH Managing Director Policy and Strategy Patrick Verhoeven. “The agreement that was reached today is however a compromise that we can support."

Reactions from the environmental community

Greenpeace suggested that the initial strategy was lacking in substance, and it called for the full decarbonization of shipping by mid-century. "Although the deal lists possible mitigation measures, the lack of an action plan for their development and the tone of discussions at the IMO does not give much confidence that measures will be adopted soon," the group said in a statement. "Greenpeace urges the industry to transform these goals into concrete, urgent steps to decarbonise in full as soon as possible and by 2050 at the latest."

However, climate NGO Carbon War Room said the MEPC agreement was a good start to reducing emissions. “A 50 percent reduction in total GHG emissions was not the truly ambitious, Paris-aligned target we had hoped for, but it is a truly significant first step on the path to decarbonization and there is much to congratulate,” said James Mitchell, maritime finance lead with Rocky Mountain Institute-Carbon War Room.

The Clean Shipping Coalition - the NGOs Bellona, Oceana, Ocean Conservancy, Seas At Risk, Transport & Environment and others - also said that the agreement is a step in the right direction. "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," said CSC president John Maggs. "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.”

CDP, a global non-profit that helps organizations measure and disclose emissions, said that more effort would be needed - and that individual actors should start now. “While it's good to see some progress in the shipping sector, science tells us that the 50 percent emissions reduction target announced today does not go far enough to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement," said Dexter Galvin, director of corporates and supply chain at CDP. "However, this does not stop individual companies taking the lead and getting ahead of tougher targets which are likely to be set in the years to come. Our work with leading purchasing organisations shows us that the customers of shipping companies are increasingly demanding action and transparency from their suppliers."