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UN agrees first ever deal to cut carbon in shipping sector

Over 170 countries in London today reached agreement to reduce shipping CO2 emissions by “at least” 50% on 2008 levels by 2050 with a strong emphasis on scaling up action to 100% by mid-century.

The decision – reached after two weeks of intense negotiations at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) – sends a clear signal to the industry and investors – that a clear switch away from fossil fuels is now on the cards.

Meeting this target means that in the 2030s most newly built ocean-going vessels will run on zero carbon renewable fuels. Ships, which transport over 80% of global trade, will become free from fossil fuels by then.

While a few specific objections were made, even the countries with the most ships registered to them supported the deal, and only two countries opposed the text outright.

Screenshot of the GHG decision from Working paper 7 [MEPC 72/WP.7]

Dr Tristan Smith, Reader in Energy and Shipping, UCL Energy Institute


“The International Maritime Organization’s commitment to reduce GHG by 50 to 100% in 2050 is major progress; the world’s shipping industry has now, for the first time, defined its commitment to tackle climate change, bringing it closer in-line with the Paris Agreement.

“It is likely this target will tighten further, but even with the lowest level of ambition, the shipping industry will require rapid technological changes to produce zero-emission ships, moving from fossil fuels, to a combination of electricity (batteries), renewable fuels derived from hydrogen, and potentially bioenergy.

“While such changes are massive for a global industry, which has a fleet of over 50,000 ships trading internationally, UK led research has shown that with the correct level of investment and better regulation, these reductions can be achieved.”

John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition and senior policy advisor, Seas At Risk

“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. 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.”

Sveinung Oftedal, chair of the Greenhouse Gas negotiations at the IMO, Norwegian Government

“Like Apollo 11 returning to Earth we knew we needed to land and we did.”

Bill Hemmings, shipping director, Transport & Environment

“The IMO should and could have gone a lot further but for the dogmatic opposition of some countries led by Brazil, Panama, Saudi Arabia. Scant attention was paid to US opposition. So this decision puts shipping on a promising track. It has now officially bought into the concept of decarbonisation and the need to deliver in-sector emission reductions, which is central to fulfilling the Paris agreement.”

Kitack Lim, Secretary General, IMO [addressing plenary]

“The text may not be satisfactory to all but it represents a strong middle ground… in this context I believe this compromise text is a solution that should be able to keep everyone on board…. [the text sends a ]strong signal to industry and you as member states are tackling this with the same commitment you have given to the Paris Agreement.”

Enemo Amaechi, Chief Legal Officer, Office of the APR-IMO, Nigeria High Commission

“Climate change is already having an impact on Nigeria. Greenhouse gas emissions are a real threat. A 50% cut [in shipping sector CO2 emissions] by 2050 is ok. We know it will not be easy for us, in terms of the impact on trade, but we are ready to go ahead. It must be done.”

David Paul, environment minister, Republic of the Marshall Islands

“This is a fair deal and by adopting this initial strategy which contains a vision to phase out GHG and set an absolute and landmark cap on emissions the international shipping sector will embark on a transition to a low emission future, where shipping can grow sustainably and maintain its role as the backbone of global trade.”

While we can say this deal puts shipping on course for a 2C pathway, it’s important to remember Paris targets “well below” 2C and aims for 1.5C, so this is no time for complacency. Full decarbonisation by mid century remains the minimum course for 1.5C, which if exceeded creates existential threats for some countries and economic threats for all.

Source: GSCC

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