Our Burning Planet


Maritime Environment Protection Committee fails to set the course for shipping industry’s decarbonisation targets

Maritime Environment Protection Committee fails to set the course for shipping industry’s decarbonisation targets
Photo: (Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The recent Maritime Environment Protection Committee — the maritime industry’s COP — neither set concrete goals for the emissions of the shipping and port sector nor did it reach consensus on how the decarbonisation agenda would be funded. Shipping is the seventh-biggest polluter in the world.

The needle on decarbonising the global shipping industry barely shifted as the 79th Maritime Environment Protection Committee (MEPC79) concluded on Friday, 16 December. The meeting failed to set a concrete target, only adopting a resolution to encourage decarbonisation in the port and shipping sectors. 

MEPC79 was held in London from 12 to 16 December, hosted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a specialist agency set up to prevent marine and atmospheric pollution by ships in support of the UN’s sustainable development goals. The conference failed to meet the expectations of ambitious states that hoped the IMO would commit to zero emissions by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement to cap global average temperatures at 1.5℃.

Read more in Daily Maverick:The lowdown on the 79th Marine Environment Protection Committee and why you should care

In the final outcomes of the meeting, the committee agreed that a revised greenhouse gas strategy, adopted in 2018, would be concluded at MEPC80 in 2023, when a target for the industry’s emissions is expected to be set. 

As 2050 approaches, it is important that the industry — the seventh-biggest polluter in the world — agrees on a target to begin transitioning the shipping sector and the role it can play in reducing its emissions.

The emission targets currently stated in the revised strategy are to reduce carbon intensity (emissions associated with transportation fuel) by at least 40% by 2030, with the hopes of reaching 70% by 2050.

The industry also hopes to reduce all emissions by at least 50% by 2050, compared with 2008. The committee also concluded to officially make an amendment to a sulphur limit in the Baltic and North seas. 

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Levels of ambition

The industry recognises the need to decarbonise, Kitack Lim, the IMO’s secretary-general, told a media briefing. “The bottom line is whether we recognise the importance of climate change issues and decarbonisation, whether we accept this is an element.”

shipping decarbonisation lim

Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization Kitack Lim at the opening of the 79th Session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee at the International Maritime Organisation, 12 December 2022. (Photo: Flickr / IMO)

Lim said the “hot topic” had been raised of addressing decarbonisation and how the negative impacts of decarbonising could be compensated by the IMO.

Developing countries were reluctant to set ambitious decarbonising goals in the final text of MEPC79 because the IMO had not yet reached a consensus on how the decarbonisation agenda would be funded.

South American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Peru actively voiced their support for lowered decarbonisation targets, with China also requesting that the final text removes the level of ambition.

Carbon Market Watch’s Daniele Rao said that despite a lack of ambition from a few countries, there were moves in the right direction towards climate action.

“The IMO has been talking about the same ‘basket of measures’ for over a year, but the time is now to start shortlisting the best, most ambitious and equitable proposals. The $100 carbon levy proposed by the Marshall Islands and the Solomon Islands is the best option on the table for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from ships and for supporting the most vulnerable,” Rao said.

Read more in Daily Maverick:Pacific Islands’ proposed carbon levy on shipping could be a lifeline for developing countries

shipping harry conway

Chair Harry Conway at the opening of the 79th Session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee at the International Maritime Organization, 12 December 2022. (Photo: Flickr / IMO)

IMO chair Dr Harry Conway settled on a compromise between ambitious countries such as the Pacific Islands and those with lower ambitions, such as China and some countries in South America.

Conway said the final text would include that the IMO would “adopt or revise its greenhouse gas strategy in all its elements, including with a strengthened level of ambition by MEPC80”.

Lim said climate ambitions would be met by market-based measures on the use of alternative fuel, adding that there were concerns about the price of alternative fuels being higher than existing fossil fuels.

Market-based measures to limit industry emissions would need to include technical and economic measures, such as setting a carbon levy.

In its call for a levy of $100/tonne of carbon, the Marshall Islands cite decarbonisation as well as the effects that increased greenhouse gas emissions have had on their islands, including rising sea levels.

SA not green enough

Earlier in the week, South Africa raised concerns at the meeting about the development of “green shipping corridors”, ports on shipping routes that would be powered by greener fuels and could be used as refuelling stations.

South Africa said because the country’s coal-reliant grid powers ports, it would have to be reconfigured to meet the greener fuel demand. While South Africa is not a big flag state in terms of ships registered to it (the country has 12 registered ships, compared with Panama, which has almost 10,000), it sits along a busy trade route, with 96% of its import and export reliant on sea trade.

Whether countries are major flag states or not, the science is clear: urgent action is needed from all sectors to ensure 1.5℃ remains the global average temperature increase that the planet should not surpass. Although the shipping industry was not mentioned in the Paris Agreement text that established the 1.5℃ limit, the industry ought to set sail towards decarbonisation.

Delaine McCullough of Ocean Conservancy said of the IMO: “While no decision was reached this week on tackling the damage shipping does to our planet, we have definitely seen important progress in this direction … We need to … focus now on steep emission reduction in the next couple of years, as climate science requires us to do.” DM/OBP

Absa OBP

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Allan Wolman Wolman says:

    Nearly two weeks since a mysterious Russian ship loads or off loads ‘cargo’ in Simons Town naval yard and this has been swept under the carpet – no answers and no-one asking any questions – where is the media this issue???

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