After UN deal on shipping emissions, it’s now up to Europe ‘to get things moving’

Sustained pressure on governments to regulate the shipping sector’s climate impact has finally resulted in a pledge to require international shipping to at least halve its greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, states meeting at the International Maritime Organisation last month made no progress on agreeing a roadmap to devise the measures needed to implement immediate emissions cuts. T&E said it's now up to Europe and its climate allies to get things moving.

The IMO meeting in London agreed to require the shipping sector to reduce its emissions by ‘at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008’. Though this falls short of the 70-100% cut by 2050 that is needed to align shipping with the goals of the Paris agreement, the Clean Shipping Coalition – of which T&E is a member – said it was a potentially game changing development.

However, the CSC added: ‘The lack of any clear plan of action to deliver the emissions reductions, including urgently needed short-term measures, is a major concern.’

T&E’s shipping director, Bill Hemmings, said: ‘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 the US which also came out in opposition to the deal, aligning itself with Saudi Arabia. Nevertheless the IMO 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.’

With this compromise obtained, T&E said that European and other progressive states at the IMO must now focus on agreeing immediate and binding operational measures to reduce shipping emissions – so that the sector’s climate impact peaks as soon as possible. While any  measures will need to take into account the maximum technological potential of the existing fleet, shipping companies have several additional options, including slowing down vessels, and retrofitting to reduce energy consumption.

Alternatively, switching ships to hybrid or fully electric modes or electrofuels (such as hydrogen or ammonia) while maintaining regular speeds  may also be possible – as should be paying to not slow down by contributing to an independent ‘fleet improvement mechanism’ fund. That fund could be used used for individual ship improvement purposes, and research and development.

T&E said that whatever measures that IMO decides, complementary action will still be required – as zero emission fuels and new propulsion technologies will not come about on their own. It cautioned that electro-fuels, or PtL, would be costly and require investment in research and development, and production, which governments should do nationally or regionally to kickstart the process.

Bill Hemmings added: ‘The European Commission and EU countries now need to seize the initiative. Time to dump the obsession with LNG, which is a decarbonisation dead-end. Time to properly focus EU research and innovation resources on new zero emission fuels and get moving with stakeholders to discuss them in detail.

‘Focus some time on the European Innovation Fund and support projects to prove whether fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia work, and advance work on the deployment of battery technology in the marine sector. Time to consider new ways to generate R&D funding – an EU initiative could benefit European industry enormously and help get something going globally. And, of course, time to deliver on the immediate measures and pre-2023 emissions reductions.’

The IMO has said it will adopt its final greenhouse gas strategy for shipping in 2023, but T&E said measures to reduce emissions will need to be agreed long before then.