Crucial moment for shipping regulation as pollution deadline looms

IMO climate meetings mark the final chance for shipping to keep 1.5 alive – but emission targets mean nothing unless the voices of the ‘silent majority’ are heard

The shipping sector faces its biggest task yet at the upcoming discussions at the International Maritime Organization (IMO): to revise its GHG Strategy in line with a 1.5°C pathway – and do it in a way that leaves no country behind.

Discussions start on 26 June at the 15th intersessional working group on greenhouse gas emissions (ISWG-GHG 15), directly followed by the 80th Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80) and the outcome of these two weeks will have a direct impact on the world’s ability to ‘keep the 1.5 alive’.

It’s expected that, at these meetings, Member States will outline the measures they intend to put in place and on what timeline. Adopting a target of zero emissions by 2050 will not be enough. To be a success, the revised GHG Strategy must include science-based emission targets that align with a 1.5°C pathway.

To keep the shipping industry on course it’s vital that:

● emissions are reduced immediately;

● meaningful science-based interim targets are set for 2030 and 2040;

● all emission targets are defined on a lifecycle basis; and

● discussions on the regulatory measures that will make these ambitious goals a reality are advanced.

According to the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi), and as argued by a number of high ambition countries at the IMO, the revised Strategy needs to include a 2030 target of at least 37% annual GHG reduction emissions on a lifecycle basis, and 2040 target of at least 96%. And, it is important that all emission targets are defined on a lifecycle basis (‘well to wake (WTW)), to account for emissions from both production and use of different fuels.

But emissions targets are not enough on their own. This must be done in a just and equitable manner, leaving no country behind. Any targets set should be done in a way that supports all nations, particularly those most vulnerable to climate change and this needs to be reflected throughout the text of the revised Strategy, and through the level of ambition of the regulatory measures to be further developed and adopted after MEPC 80.

Ana Laranjeira, Shipping Manager at Opportunity Green says:

“Historically, a significant number of climate vulnerable countries – the so-called 'silent majority' – have been missing from the climate debates at the IMO, mainly due to lack of capacity and funds.

But these perspectives are urgently needed at ISWG-GHG 15 and MEPC 80 to ensure the ambition for both emissions reductions and a just and equitable transition are carried forward.

“There is no equity nor fairness in the decision-making process if climate vulnerable Member States are unable to take part in these meetings and have their say in the final outcome of the negotiations – particularly when there is so much at stake for these nations, most impacted by climate change.”

Shipping is a lifeline for many of these nations, particularly for remote Small Island Developing States (SIDS). It provides them with essential goods, jobs, and facilitates their international trade. But the sector is also a major emitter, further exacerbating the dire situation of climate vulnerable countries.

And as stated by the UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the IMO’s current emissions Strategy to reduce GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 is not enough, and puts the shipping sector on a pathway of above 3°C of global warming.

Analysis of the global economic impacts of climate change estimates that by 2030, SIDS in the Pacific will suffer an average annual GDP loss of between 0.75% – 6.5%, compared to a global average of 0.5%. Already, SIDS have seen their external debt more than double between 2008 – 2021. A vicious cycle is being generated with these countries having to divert an escalating percentage of their limited resources to respond to extreme weather events and paying back debt. This is a defining aspect of the climate crisis, and its intrinsic inequity.

Ana Laranjeira concludes, “We need continued efforts from the IMO to support climate vulnerable countries and ensure they get a seat at the negotiating table, that their voices are heard, and that they are able to have a say in the decision-making of something that so greatly affects them.

“We sincerely hope to see an increase in in-person participation from climate vulnerable countries at these meetings. Recently, we welcomed the IMO’s initiative to financially support the in-person attendance of developing countries to its climate meetings, through the creation of Voluntary Multi-Donor Trust Fund and these talks will be the first test to the effectiveness of this fund.”