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COP27: It’s time for IMO to deliver on shipping decarbonisation

The view from inside COP27 via Katharine Palmer, the shipping lead of the Climate Champion Team, and Johannah Christensen, chief executive of the Global Maritime Forum

Shipping has a window of opportunity to engage with countries, communities, and policymakers to raise the ambition and shape the policy. The opportunity is now — and we must seize this, argue two of the leading industry representatives who have spent the past fortnight inside the COP27 climate summit in Egypt

COP27, dubbed the “Implementation COP”, saw shipping’s climate actions highlighted beyond our expectations. As the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels takes another leap forward, it is no longer a question of the direction of travel, but rather one of how fast the industry can move and, in doing so, inspire other sectors.

Our message going into COP27 was clear, the world cannot keep 1.5°C alive without decarbonising shipping and now is the time to put shipping on a 1.5°C-aligned trajectory as well as set ambitious 2030 and 2040 targets.

Over the past two weeks, leaders from across the maritime and energy sectors showed that a 1.5°C-aligned transformation is possible, demonstrating solutions in zero-emission fuels and technologies, a smooth transition and port resilience, and that scaling and acceleration requires radical collaboration across all parties.

Shipping is no longer a “hard to abate” sector but one that acts as a climate solution, not only by decarbonising its own emissions but also providing solutions and resilience benefits to wider communities, cities and countries — as exemplified with the launch of the maritime resilience breakthroughs.

Shipping was high on the agenda of more than just the maritime leaders; shipping for the first time was included in a world leader’s statement by way of a mention from US President Joe Biden. Many now recognise that we cannot decarbonise our economies and ensure resilient societies without decarbonising shipping. Shipping clearly is being seen as a source of climate solutions and a key sector to lead the way.

So, what can we take away from our time in the desert?

A 1.5°C-aligned transformation is possible, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. What we witnessed on the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh was promising — governments, maritime industry leaders and private companies made many commitments to accelerate shipping’s transition to zero-emission fuels and vessels, facilitate green shipping corridors, and align the sector to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.5°C.

The world’s largest green hydrogen producers and maritime leaders came together and signed a joint statement committing to the rapid adoption of green hydrogen-based fuels this decade to get on track for full decarbonisation by 2050, with the intent to demonstrate that there will be a sufficient supply of green fuels and demand for zero-emissions shipping.

In addition, the Clydebank Declaration celebrated its first birthday and provided an opportunity to demonstrate progress in the implementation of green corridors with more than 20 Green Corridor consortia announced in just 12 months — many more than were expected by mid-decade. If these corridors succeed, zero-emission shipping will be a commercially viable option anywhere by 2030.

Another takeaway is that COP27 achieved putting people and communities at the centre of climate action. The Just Transition Maritime Task Force launched a 10-point action plan to address and breakthrough that 800,000 seafarers need to be upskilled and retrained by the mid-2030s. Seafarers also took the lead in shipping discussions, as did stakeholders from the Global South.

new analysis from the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance showcased that green hydrogen could sustainably industrialise Africa and boost GDP by 6% to 12% in six African countries. Africa could be a continent to spearhead shipping’s decarbonisation, and if its potential is unlocked, green hydrogen could increase GDP by 12% by 2050.

This has set the standard and is the new norm to ensure that there are no representation gaps related to gender, age and geographical location. We must leave no one behind and include developing and vulnerable countries in the transition process.

The maritime sector announcements at COP27 demonstrate that 1.5°C-aligned transformation is only possible if pledges and climate commitments are converted into concrete actions now. This will require a whole-system approach and radical collaboration, as well as corresponding policies and regulatory clarity from the International Maritime Organization.

We are at a critical point in the GHG negotiations at the IMO, which is set to adopt a revised GHG strategy in July next year and agree on details of policy measures to price emissions and develop a GHG fuel standard. As a sector, we thus have a unique window of opportunity to engage with countries, communities and policy makers to raise the ambition and shape the policy. The opportunity is now — and we must seize this.

Looking ahead to COP28 in UAE next year, there should not be any doubt that the IMO has heeded our call for 1.5°C and maritime resilience. The maritime industry is ready to lead the way in our transition to a clean, just, and resilient zero-carbon world.

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