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A Key Moment to Advance Green Shipping

The temperature goal of the Paris Agreement includes pursuing efforts to limit global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees C above pre-industrial levels. As the Parties to the Agreement recognized in the Glasgow Climate Pact, achieving this goal “requires rapid, deep, and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions.”

Emissions from international shipping, however, are currently significant and rising – roughly equivalent to emissions from an economy the size of Germany or Japan. Looking ahead, they are projected to increase as much as 130 percent from 2008 levels by 2050.

This July, countries will convene in London for the 80th meeting of the Marine Environment Protection Committee of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to adopt a new greenhouse gas strategy for international shipping (the “Revised Strategy”). It is a key moment to create emissions reduction targets for the sector that align with the 1.5-degree goal.

Here are three key issues to be considered at the IMO this July:

Long-term goal. The long-term goal of the current IMO greenhouse gas strategy – which includes reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 – is insufficiently ambitious. The United States therefore has proposed the inclusion of a more ambitious goal – specifically, zero emissions from international shipping no later than 2050 – in the Revised Strategy. Studies show that such a goal is feasible if urgent action is taken this decade.

Container ships are pictured at a port. [Canva image by pigphoto]

Interim milestones. A long-term target alone does not guarantee an emissions trajectory that is aligned with the 1.5-degree goal. The United States therefore has supported the adoption of interim goals, such as reducing total annual greenhouse gas emissions from the sector by at least 37 percent by 2030. This goal is achievable if most ships introduce what are already best-practice operational efficiencies and if even just 5 percent of the world’s fleet by energy volume adopts zero-emission fuels and technologies – leaving time to scale up broader adoption by 2040. We also have proposed to complement emissions reduction goals with a goal to increase energy consumption from zero- or near-zero emission fuels, given that the fuel transition is key to fully decarbonizing the sector.

Mid-term measures. Including 1.5-aligned emissions reduction goals in the Revised Strategy is essential to set the direction of travel toward a zero-emission international shipping sector. Yet it is also essential to create the measures that will help achieve these goals. The United States supports further progress in the IMO on developing mid-term measures, including a greenhouse gas fuel standard. An economic measure such as a maritime emissions pricing mechanism could complement this standard.

There is increasing demand from non-state actors for the transition to green shipping. Initiatives from companies, shippers, insurers, and ports continue to grow. Yet voluntary measures and investments by “first movers” will not – and should not be expected to – decarbonize the sector alone. It is vital for governments to signal this July that the maritime sector is part of the clean energy future.
Source: US Department of State

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