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IMO’s revised GHG strategy sparks mixed reactions

‘2040 is less than 17 years away and the availability of zero-GHG marine fuels today is virtually zero,’ warns International Chamber of Shipping

Historic revision of greenhouse gas emission reduction targets by the IMO has been welcomed as an ‘ambitious compromise’ allowing rapid action from the industry, but green lobby groups have roundly criticised the lacklustre targets that fail to align with the Paris Agreement goals

THE revision of the International Maritime Organization’s greenhouse gas strategy triggered an immediate deluge of statements broadly divided by industry officials welcoming an “historic compromise” and environmental lobby groups lamenting the “lack of ambition”.

While the agreement was hailed as a significant achievement by most of the delegates inside the IMO, green groups complained the revised targets were both non-committal in the language and failed to align with the 1.5°C detail set out by the Paris Agreement. 

“It is a remarkable improvement that the revised GHG strategy now aims to achieve net-zero emissions by or around 2050, and the introduction of indicative 2030 and 2040 checkpoints for emissions reductions sends an important signal to governments and industry. However, the revised strategy falls short to provide the necessary clarity and strong commitments for a just and equitable Paris Agreement-aligned transition,” said Global Maritime Forum chief executive Johannah Christensen.

Some environment groups heavily criticised the agreement, emphasising the need for more clear targets for the shipping industry to align itself with 1.5°C.

“There is no excuse for this wish-and-a-prayer agreement. They knew what the science required, and that a 50% cut in emissions by 2030 was both possible and affordable. Instead, the level of ambition agreed is far short of what is needed to be sure of keeping global heating below 1.5ºC and the language seemingly contrived to be vague and non-committal,” said John Maggs from the Clean Shipping Coalition.

Shipping industry groups, however welcomed the “very strong signal” to ship operators and, most importantly, to energy producers who must now urgently supply zero GHG marine fuels in very large quantities if such a rapid transition is to be possible.

“The checkpoints agreed for 2030 and 2040 are particularly ambitious,” said International Chamber of Shipping deputy secretary general Simon Bennett.

He said the industry will now do everything possible to achieve these goals, however he warned that “this can only be achieved if IMO rapidly agrees to a global levy on ships’ GHG emissions to support a ‘fund and reward’ mechanism, as proposed by the industry”.

The ICS has repeatedly argued that the industry urgently need to reduce the cost gap between conventional and alternative marine fuels and incentivise the production and uptake of new fuels at the scale now required to meet this accelerated transition.

“2040 is less than 17 years away and the availability of zero GHG marine fuels today is virtually zero,” said Bennet.

The revised strategy includes some provisions that the industry will likely welcome such as the agreement on a 5% uptake of zero or near-zero GHG emission technologies, fuels or energy sources to be used by international shipping by 2030, striving for 10%.

The industry had been calling for clear signals to start investing in measures to tackle emissions.

“This agreement sends a clear signal to investors in the production of new green fuels and new green ships that the green transition will happen and that there is a plan for when. We could not have wished for much better,” said Anne H Steffensen, chief executive of trade organisation Danish Shipping.

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