Efforts by Europe, the US and Pacific small island states to boost ambition on ship climate action has failed to overcome the weight of industry interests, resulting in an agreement to reduce emissions in the short-term that is so weak it is no better than business as usual. The agreement will allow shipping’s already high emissions of 1 billion tonnes a year of CO2 to keep rising, perhaps by as much as 16% by 2030.

Governments are meeting virtually at the 76th session of the International Maritime Organisation’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (“MEPC76”) from June 10-17th.

On Monday, the Chair of the meeting agreed to advance what will become the IMO’s flagship short term climate policy. The policy will encourage shipping companies to reduce carbon intensity 11% by 2026, a pathway so weak it will play no meaningful role in incentivising shipping companies to phase out fossil fuel propulsion.

In an extraordinarily telling indication of the ambition of shipping interests, the 11% was chosen specifically because it constituted a reduction rate similar to business as usual, i.e., the rate at which carbon intensity has been falling in recent years in the absence of regulation. The agreed new rule has no enforcement mechanism, such as penalties or fees for noncompliance, so it is in practice another target rather than real CO2 reduction policy.

The agreed reduction rate is c. 1.5%/year, while a rate close to 7%/year is needed to align ship climate emissions with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C temperature goal.


Climate regulation for all 60,000 or so commercial vessels in operation is a crucial part of the climate puzzle, given the long 25-30 year lifespan of ships.

Since 2019, governments have been negotiating a package of “Short-Term” global policies to put in place in order to ensure the shipping industry achieves at least the bare minimum 2030 targets of the IMO’s Initial Greenhouse Gas Strategy, notably: “at least 40%” reduction in the global shipping fleet’s carbon intensity from a 2008 baseline.

The discussions show that the IMO risks failing to align the shipping industry with the Paris Climate Agreement or keep pace with exciting technological progress on decarbonisation in the shipping sector.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers says retrofitting modern sails on cargo ships and reducing speeds can cut emissions from the shipping industry by up to 40%. Leading shipping companies plan to scale up hydrogen fuel cells on various vessel types in the next few years, and have many zero-emission vessels on the water by 2030.

There is no lack of money to invest in green technologies – the shipping industry is booming. Maersk, the world’s largest shipping company, reported $12.4 billion in Q1 2021 unaudited revenue, and expects high container demand to continue through 2022. Globally, the order book for newly built container ships is at a 30-year high.

Instead of seizing the opportunity to drive uptake of green technologies over the next decade and align shipping with the Paris Agreement, the IMO has once again let corporations, shipbuilding and ship registry nations, and petrostates control policy outcomes that affect the habitability of our planet.