Critical window of opportunity for decarbonization policy at IMO

On 22-23 September 2022, the Global Maritime Forum’s Annual Summit hosted more than 200 maritime leaders to explore ideas for action on shipping’s major long-term challenges and opportunities. As the IMO is revising their GHG strategy in 2023, one working group discussed how the maritime industry can help push for more ambitious policy action.

December 07 2022

The IMO’s revised greenhouse gas strategy will determine the future of shipping decarbonization. This working group called for ambitious targets and an equitable transition.

As zero-emission fuels and technologies are making strides and the alarming messages from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are coming across loud and clear, industry and government leaders are increasingly rallying to raise the ambition at the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The IMO plans to revise its initial greenhouse gas (GHG) strategy by mid-2023, which means there is a unique window of opportunity to inform future decarbonization regulation. This working group discussed the opportunity for the industry to inform policymaking such that the outcome sets out a clear commitment to full decarbonization while providing the policies to make zero-emission shipping commercially viable. The session also explored the opportunity for governments to agree on a regulatory framework that is equitable, effective and sensitive to the needs and priorities of each government.

The elephant in the room: Equity and trust

Participants began by bringing up the elephant in the room: the issues standing in the way of a positive outcome at the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting in London in July 2023. The top issue related to equity and the possibility that a range of countries concerned about the negative impacts of a full decarbonization target on their economies may block progress. Other issues included the misalignment between ministries in some countries and between stakeholders, as well as a lack of trust and common

Full decarbonization by 2050 and a basket of supporting measures

Participants representing the maritime industry, governments and experts then worked together to draft the ideal revised GHG strategy. They defined a vision of phasing out greenhouse gases in line with IPCC science and achieving full decarbonization no later than 2050. They also set tangible interim targets for 2030 and 2040, and applied the “polluter pays” principle.

To reach this ambition, participants proposed a basket of policy measures, including a carbon tax, a ban on new fossil-fueled vessels by 2035 and a fuel standard, combined with efficiency measures to encourage near-term emission reductions.

Carbon tax revenues to provide investment and compensation

Equity was at the center of the proposed GHG strategy, encompassing global connectivity around zero-emission fuels and fair compensation for negatively affected states. The participants recommended that, while part of the revenue generated through a carbon levy should be reinvested in green infrastructure and used to level the costs of zero-emission fuels to accelerate the transition, another part should be reserved for small island developing states and the least-developed countries. Concerns of middle-income countries should also be acknowledged, as well as their opportunities as potential producers and exporters of zero-emission fuels.

Participants also discussed the importance of ensuring decarbonization considers seafarers’ needs, for instance, related to training and safety.

“To be 1.5 aligned does mean zero by 2050, but it also means a 90% reduction by 2040. That is a big challenge. But I don’t think it’s one you need to be afraid of, and I think that if you communicate fear about that challenge, you will fail to inspire the IMO and those who can help you achieve it to embrace it as well. That community needs two things: confidence and empathy. We’re asking governments to embrace radical change. We need to listen to what they’re terrified about and factor it into the solution.”

— Dr. Tristan Smith, Associate Professor at UCL Energy Institute, Co-Founder of UMAS

Key actions

  • Advocate for ambitious decarbonization targets and supporting measures in IMO’s revised greenhouse gas strategy
  • Advocate for an equitable and just transition, for example by reserving part of carbon pricing revenues for small island developing states and the least-developed countries

This excerpt is taken from Braving rough seas, a new report summarizing ideas for collective action that emerged at the Global Maritime Forum’s Annual Summit 2022 in New York. Read the full report to learn more.

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