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IMO adopts greenhouse gas reduction strategy for shipping industry

17 April 2018

The International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) adoption of an initial strategy to address shipping emissions is "a step in the right direction", but there is more that can be done, according to the industry.

Shipping was originally left out of major nation-based climate accords, with some countries such as the USA and Saudi Arabia not wanting to cut shipping emissions at all.

"The initial strategy agreed by MEPC 72 is the first of its kind, not only because it goes well beyond the Paris Agreement with the introduction of quantitative targets, but also because, in doing so, shipping becomes the first industry to adopt such concrete global goals for the reduction of its total GHG emissions". It includes candidate short-, mid- and long-term further measures with possible timelines and their impacts on states.

Kitack Lim, secretary general, IMO, encouraged delegates to continue developing the strategy. If nothing had been done, these emissions could have increased by 50% to 250% by 2050.

"It is now crucial that effective reduction measures are swiftly adopted and put in place before 2023".

The MEPC will hold a fourth intersessional meeting of the Working Group on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships later this year. It will develop follow-up actions to the initial strategy and consider how to further reduce shipping's GHGs and report its findings to MEPC 73 in October. "Without these the goals of the Paris agreement will remain out of reach". A 50% reduction in emissions is a substantial target, especially considering the complex decision-making process at the IMO.

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The initial strategy's levels of ambition note that technological innovation and the global introduction of alternative fuels and/or energy sources for worldwide shipping will be integral to achieve the overall ambition. GHG emissions largely depend on the design and the technology of the constructed ships, their engines and machinery, and the fuels used for propulsion.

Experts say that it sends a strong signal to the shipping industry and fuel suppliers.

"Achieving these goals will be a major task and will require massive research and development efforts, as we will eventually have to use alternative fuels resulting in zero emissions at all".

"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". There are many technical measures and operational improvements already being investigated in industry and academia.

Despite a largely positive reception to the deal, the USA remains cynical about the demand to reduce emissions by such a lofty figure.

IMO adopts greenhouse gas reduction strategy for shipping industry