IMO GHG emissions priority

IMO prioritizes GHG emissions in bid to stay on target

Oct. 22 2020 - 5 min

The IMO is facing significant challenges as it strives to maintain its timeline for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the shipping industry.

In April 2018, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) committed to halving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping activities by 2050 and reducing the sector’s carbon intensity by 40% by 2030.

To achieve this, it is considering technical and operational initiatives. These include the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index and the strengthening of the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan.

Both ideas will be discussed at the seventh meeting of the Intersessional Working Group on Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships (Oct 19-23). The 75th Session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (Nov 16-20) should also approve draft amendments, with the aim of implementing short-term measures in January 2023.

Weathering the impact of a pandemic

COVID-19 lockdown restrictions caused all meetings at the IMO’s London headquarters to be postponed between early March and late July. Through remote sessions, its five Committees are currently able to resume technical work until headquarters reopen for physical meetings. 

The postponing of the 75th MEPC Session from April to November could be quite significant. If short-term decarbonization measures are to come into force by 2023 as planned, member states of the IMO must finalize the rules before mid-2021.

A challenging course forward

The IMO currently faces several challenges for advancing its decarbonization agenda. It must perform a tricky balancing act of responding to industry needs while working within a multi-stakeholder process. Member states that were already critical of slow progress in the IMO process pre-COVID are increasingly impatient for change.

More and more companies are making their own moves towards decarbonization, such as CMA CGM’s initiative, launched in July 2020 in conjunction with Total and 9 other companies. Meanwhile, the European Parliament’s recent vote to include shipping in the EU Emission Trade Scheme is putting further pressure on the IMO.

Looking forward to 2030 and 2050

The marine sector must take action to reduce emissions with the solutions available today to meet targets for 2030 and 2050. At present, liquefied natural gas (LNG) is the only alternative fuel deployed on a large scale, with fast-developing and competitive distribution infrastructure.

In time, the maritime transport sector will be able to capitalize on the production of alternative fuels such as hydrogen, ammonia and biofuels.

Sustainable shipping will not come cheap, however, as two key numbers illustrate. According to the Getting to Zero Coalition, for shipping to be fully decarbonized by 2050, it would require a total investment of $1.2-1.6 trillion USD. To meet just the IMO’s minimum decarbonization targets, the International Energy Agency believes that maritime transport needs an additional investment of $6 billion USD.

IMO has a critical role to play in directing the marine industry’s march towards decarbonization. It will remain a key focus of the industry’s decarbonization efforts, while increasing its cooperative efforts with stakeholders across the marine, energy and finance sectors.