The UN's shipping body has settled on the main elements of an interim strategy aiming to decarbonise the sector. Over 170 countries meeting at the International Maritime Organisation in London had some substantive discussion on objectives and ways to decarbonise shipping resulting in a 7-step outline that now needs to be developed into an interim plan due in 2018. One proposal calling for the shipping sector to adopt climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement and decarbonise by the second half of the century gained overwhelming expressions of support but failed to reach a consensus.

freightliner 385677 1920The meeting saw China and India voice strong support for alternative low carbon fuels, and a coalition of Pacific and European nations highlight the urgency of taking in-sector action. A number of countries with long lines of communication – among them Brazil and Chile - voiced concerns about potentially negative impacts of reduction measures.

Shipping accounts for 2-3% of global greenhouse gas emissions, but a 2014 UN study predicts growth in trade could swell its carbon footprint 50-250% by 2050, blowing chances of limiting global warming to well below 2C, as targeted in the Paris Agreement.

The 7-step plan agreed this week will form the basis of the IMO’s first substantial attempt to tackle climate change, 20 years after first being requested to do so under the Kyoto Protocol.

When presented in early 2018 it should lay out a clear vision, a suite of short and medium term measures and quantified CO2 targets for the sectors.

John Maggs, senior policy advisor, Seas At Risk said "Some important progress has been made but if the process is to produce a fit for purpose initial strategy by 2018 then it needs to shift up a gear and start focussing on the core issue of how to cut ship emissions deeply in the short term".

Mike Halferty, Marshall Islands minister for transport & communications said: “We have made modest progress in IMO in the last two weeks towards agreeing, in 2018, an initial strategy for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases from the international shipping sector. In particular the outline for a draft initial strategy has been set out. And we have agreed that the text of the initial strategy should be developed when we meet again in October. Importantly, there is large support for a vision for emissions reductions from the sector to be developed in order to send a strong signal from IMO to stakeholders. For the Marshall Islands, many other SIDS and other countries that means decarbonisation of the sector by 2050. It is clear that much more rapid progress will need to be made at the second working group in October in order to deliver the initial strategy by 2018, as agreed”. 

Moses Mose, Solomon Islands ambassador to EU said: “We are encouraged that many countries share our interests and are willing to find common ground and a way forward on this issue. We must seize on this opportunity to produce tangible progress so that IMO has something credible to report to COP 24 in 2018.” 

 Bill Hemmings, Director shipping and aviation, Transport & Environment said: “Political differences over differentiation and potential costs of measures prevented substantive progress despite the very welcome presence of a strong delegation of Pacific Island nations so vulnerable to climate change calling for an ambitious reduction target and urgent measures. A sense of urgency was lacking and hopes have again been deferred to the next meeting being held in October nearly two years after the paris agreement”.    

The meeting also considered design efficiency requirements for new ships. A decision was taken to start the process of developing a new future design efficiency requirement for ships, but a decision about bringing forward the 2025 requirements to 2022 was delayed until late 2018 at the earliest. In light of continued massive over-compiance with the design efficiency requirements environmental NGOs and many states had been pushing for an early decision on bringing the 2025 requirements forward to 2022.

 Notes to editors: 

 -The 7-stage outcome is as follows: 1 - emission scenarios, 2 - vision, 3 - ambition, 4 - candidate measures to achieve GHG cuts, 5 - R&D / capacity building, 6 - periodic reviews, 7 - follow-ups ahead of 2023 revised strategy 

 -If shipping were a country it would be the world’s 7th biggest emitter

 -IMO is aiming to deliver an interim climate deal for shipping in 2018, with a comprehensive plan scheduled for 2023

 -A CE Delft study this week revealed efficiency of new ships declined in 2016 

 -The International Energy Agency rates IMO as “not on track” to meet its sector’s fair share of CO2 cuts needed to limit warming to below 2C

-The next round of IMO climate talks takes place in London this October