Having previously agreed a short-term carbon intensity measure that is no better than “business as usual”, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) will next week try to shift the debate to how the industry reduces its emissions in the future. While discussions about a future carbon levy, a fuel standard and other mid-term measures are important for the transition to zero-emissions in the long run, Paris Agreement climate targets cannot be met without new and more ambitious short-term emission reductions, which are currently not on the table.

Recent developments make a clear case for additional urgent short-term action. The World Meteorological Organization has warned of a potential, temporary 1.5°C temperature rise by 2026 without urgent action. And the recent IPCC report on climate mitigation also made clear that the only way to avoid climate warming above 1.5°C is deep and immediate emission cuts across all sectors.

Delegates at the IMO’s Intersessional Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships talks on 16-20 May (“ISWG-GHG 12”) must ensure that any future carbon levy and/or fuel standard is consistent with staying below the 1.5°C climate-warming trajectory set by the Paris Agreement and with a just transition. But these measures must be supplemented by new short-term action.

While mid-term measures are an important tool for decarbonising shipping, they cannot achieve the immediate emission reductions that are needed to avoid dangerous global heating. It is essential that the IMO adopts additional, robust, ambitious short-term measures that can deliver a 50% absolute reduction in shipping’s emissions by 2030 and a full decarbonisation of the sector well before 2050. These measures should include action to reduce emissions of  black carbon, especially in and near the Arctic where its impact is magnified, and drive slow-steaming and the retrofitting of wind sails.

To this end the IMO must urgently review its recently agreed carbon intensity standard, closing loopholes, strengthening enforcement and most importantly raising the targets such that emissions start falling on a pathway consistent with keeping warming below 1.5°C. Recent analysis suggests this requires an annual improvement in carbon intensity of 6-7%. The standard is currently set around 1.5% annual improvement between 2020 and 2026, which is no better than business as usual.Ship cargo