A decision by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its member countries not to revise their emission reduction strategy until the spring of 2023 has been criticized as “dangerous” by environmental activists.
At the meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), convened by the IMO, one of the first global green summits after Cop26, Kitack Lim, the UN Secretary-General, told delegates: “The world is watching us.” And on Tuesday, the chairman of the meeting, Hideaki Saito, spoke about the “urgency” of all sectors accelerating their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the light of Glasgow’s climate pact earlier this month.
Saito said the committee “recognized the need to strengthen ambition” in the IMO’s current strategy to halve international greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by 2050. The strategy, which is far from what is needed to remain in line with the Paris Agreement, was criticized as insufficient by UN Secretary-General António Guterres in October.
But the decision to wait until 2023 to adopt a strategy that has not yet been revised was described as “minuscule progress” by environmentalists in the face of a climate crisis that is already upon us.
The chairman said that the committee could agree to invite interested member states and international organizations to submit concrete proposals for a revised strategy to MEPC78, next year, for consideration, but to MEPC80 (2023), for adoption.
Lucy Gilliam, Maritime Policy Officer at Seas At Risk, said: “There is really very little progress.
“It is not enough. We have 10 years to reduce emissions. We must halve emissions by 2030.
“Spending two years thinking about revising a strategy – is this incredibly small step a valid response to the climate crisis? We are not in climate denial but we are in climate delays and it is dangerous.”
At the meeting in London, John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, told delegates that sticking to the 1.5C Paris target requires “deep cuts in emissions right now.” Delaying meant “losing the effect of two years of ambition,” he said.
Many of the UN member states have already committed themselves to sharpening emission reductions in their maritime sectors. At Cop26, a coalition of countries including the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany, Panama and the Marshall Islands signed a declaration pledging to “strengthen global efforts” to reach net zero emissions by 2050.
The EU has also committed itself to a reduction according to its “fits 55” goals to reduce shipping emissions by 55% by 2030. According to proposed law, shipping companies will have to pay for the carbon they emit when traveling to and from the EU and between EU ports by 2026.
A resolution on zero emissions by 2050 of the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands was discussed for two days by delegates, but found support among only a minority of countries. They included Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States, Vanuatu and Iceland. Others, including the EU27, Georgia, South Korea, the Bahamas and Norway supported the goals but not the 2050 resolution.
It is noteworthy that several EU countries that approved the zero-emissions declaration for shipping at Cop26 failed to support the IMO’s resolution to make it a goal.
Several countries spoke out against the 2050 resolution and the zero-emission target for 2050, including Brazil, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
However, not everyone agreed that the progress was insignificant.
Edmund Hughes, an independent consultant who previously worked for the IMO Secretariat, said reaching an agreement on a more ambitious strategy was an “important first step” for the IMO and its member states.
“It is clear from the discussion that there must be greater ambitions than the 50 percent by 2050,” Hughes said. “It is not seen as sufficient by many governments and will definitely not meet Paris’ goals.
“Reaching an agreement on the revised strategy is an important first step. Once you have revised the strategy, you will have an understanding of what the goal is. Governments will only move forward at the pace they want to move forward.
“The European Member States are in a difficult position as they are currently negotiating the ‘fit for 55’ proposals, which have implications for shipping.”