Our Burning Planet


Shipping industry sets sail on ambitious climate reduction course, but it won’t be smooth sailing to 1.5°C

Shipping industry sets sail on ambitious climate reduction course, but it won’t be smooth sailing to 1.5°C
(Photos: Unsplash / Patrick Hendry | William William)

Delegates from the shipping industry gathered last week to adopt the industry’s most ambitious climate action plan yet, but concrete steps to ensure its success are yet to come.

The 80th session of the Maritime Protection Committee (MEPC 80) has adopted a revised greenhouse gas strategy that particularly looked into climate reduction targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. 

MEPC 80 concluded its two-week negotiations at the International Maritime Organisation in London, adopting what is one of its most progressive efforts yet to ensure it does its part in keeping aligned with the 1.5°C targets outlined in the Paris Agreement. 

Targets set in the revised strategy by over 800 delegates from more than 170 countries include reducing emissions by at least 20%, striving for 30% by 2030, 80% by 2040 and reaching net zero “by or around 2050”.

This is the most ambitious step that shipping has taken with regard to reducing greenhouse gas emissions since adopting its initial strategy seven years ago. The adoption of the revised strategy is significant in an industry that is considered the seventh biggest polluter in the world. 

A 2020 study by the MEPC, cited in the final text of the revised strategy, stated that the industry accounted for 2.89% of anthropogenic emissions, with that number possibly representing between 90% and 130% of 2008 emissions by 2050. 

Some developing countries, particularly those in South America, expressed strong opposition to ambitious decarbonisation language as financing for a just transition in the shipping industry had not been up for much discussion at the committee meeting. 

South Africa also aligned itself with some of the developing countries, citing concerns about the economic impact that climate ambitions such as a carbon levy could have on the economy of countries like South Africa. SA did, however, pledge its support for the revised strategy. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: South Africa supports decarbonisation of shipping industry — in a lukewarm kind of way

“South Africa hereby reiterates its support for the adoption of the Draft IMO GHG strategy (with slight amendments to Annex 2), and not only noting that its development observes the principles of a just and equitable transition, and recognition of special circumstances of Developing Countries, SIDS [Small Islands and Developing States] and LDCs [Less Developed Countries], but trust that we will also see tangible evidence that these principles indeed form an integral part of the successful execution of the strategy,” South Africa said in the closing plenary session of the conference. 

Although the final text does not explicitly lay out how developing states and small islands will be aided in ensuring this transition, there is an acknowledgement that the impact must be considered for such countries. 

Argentina expressed strong objection to a universal carbon levy, saying that this is aligned with the concerns of other developing nations. The South American state said that while it supported decarbonisation measures to achieve the levels of ambition sought, it was concerned that a carbon levy would impair food security as it would have an impact on food prices, particularly in developing states far removed from their import markets. India also expressed serious concerns about the “unrealistic” targets in the revised strategy. 

With the climate reduction targets set, the next committee sitting – MEPC 81 – in April 2024 will see the setting up of a steering committee that will decide on the basket of measures to be taken to reach the set targets. 

Dr Alison Shaw, Policy Lead at University Maritime Advisory Services, said it was “far from smooth sailing at the IMO this week … However, member states have now come together to send a strong signal to the shipping sector. 

“While the 2023 IMO GHG strategy falls short of being clearly aligned to a 1.5°C pathway, it does set expectations for reductions by 2030 and 2040, for the adoption of global measures, and envisions a just and equitable transition. 

“The strength of the strategy now relies on both the sector’s response and the forthcoming development of global measures by member states, both of which should be geared to striving for 30% GHG emissions reduction by 2030.” DM

To read all about Daily Maverick’s recent The Gathering: Earth Edition, click here.

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