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UN climate talks on shipping: short-term action urgently needed

Civil society groups call for an urgent adoption of short-term emission reduction targets for global shipping at the UN, ahead of crucial talks in December. Getting shipping on track to avoid exceeding the 1.5°C climate-heating limit requires cutting the industry’s emissions by half by 2030 and reaching zero by 2040. The latest round of talks at the UN’s shipping regulator, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), showed a clear majority of countries in favour of setting a 2050 deadline for eliminating shipping’s 1 billion tonnes of annual carbon emissions. While this target would bring the industry closer than ever to the level of ambition required by the Paris Agreement, it is not enough to achieve the Agreement’s main objective of limiting global heating to below 1.5°C.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that rapid and significant emission cuts across all sectors, including shipping, are imperative for keeping the 1.5°C limit alive.

Numerous studies have shown that a 1.5°C-aligned transition of shipping is technologically feasible and evidence on the table at the upcoming meeting shows that early and ambitious action is cheaper, with every year of delay adding $100 billion to the cost of decarbonizing the shipping industry. The COP27 Climate Summit in Egypt showed the industry taking important steps in its clean transition, with the launch of initiatives to accelerate the uptake of zero-emissions fuels, expand green shipping corridors, and improve port resilience. The IMO’s 174 member states have all the necessary conditions, as well as a clear duty, to enshrine the 1.5°C trajectory for shipping at the UN, with strong interim goals.

This needs to go hand in hand with concrete measures to reduce emissions from ships, such as a fuel standard, a minimum $100 carbon levy, and action on black carbon and methane emissions. Pricing shipping’s emissions can ensure an equitable transition by generating much-needed funding to support vulnerable countries and communities, while cutting black carbon emissions can directly eliminate up to 21% of shipping’s climate pollution. John Maggs, Clean Shipping Coalition, said: “Every tonne of CO2, black carbon and methane emitted from shipping counts and will only add to the climate chaos that is unfolding around us. We have a very simple practical message for MEPC79: To save 1.5°C and avoid climate chaos you need to cut ship emissions deeply now, and halve them before 2030. There’s no excuse for delay, and certainly no waiting until 2030 for emission reductions to “take off”, as some in the shipping industry have predictably but irresponsibly suggested.”

Delaine McCullough, Ocean Conservancy, said: “At COP27 we saw the world recommit to limiting warming to 1.5°C and saw countries announce new green shipping initiatives, which included the U.S.-Norway Green Shipping Challenge, green shipping corridors, and the development of alternative fuels. The energy around shipping decarbonization at the COP set the stage for the IMO to increase its level of ambition at the upcoming ISWG and MEPC meetings. What’s just as important as achieving zero emissions from shipping by 2040 is for the IMO to set a strong 2030 emissions reduction target that will keep the industry on the 1.5°C trajectory that the world agreed to last month. The IMO needs to align itself with the goals of the Paris Agreement if it wants to play a role in maintaining a livable world and the outcomes from COP27 provide it with its best opportunity to do so.”

Aoife O’Leary, Opportunity Green, said: “MEPC 79 is a key opportunity before the big crunch time next year, so we urgently need to get the IMO on the right path to 1.5°C. Countries must also rally to support the climate vulnerable to make this a just and equitable transition. The $100 GHG levy proposal of the Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands is the best option on the table to effectively reduce all emissions from shipping quickly while generating revenues to support vulnerable nations and communities.”

Lucy Gilliam, Seas at Risk, said: “We must act fast and align with the science. Rising greenhouse gas is setting off a chain of events that is changing our once seemingly stable planet and tipping it into climate chaos. Every moment we fail to act to reduce consumption of fossil energy and resources we reduce the resilience of systems we need. For our water to drink, our food, our economies, our happiness, and our peace. Every year we fail to act, we move closer to dangerous tipping points with cascading knock-on impacts which are possibly irreversible. No time to waste.”

Sian Prior, Clean Arctic Alliance, said: “Black carbon is a potent climate forcing pollutant with an impact over three thousand times that of CO2 on a 20-year global warming potential, that has a disproportionately high impact when it settles onto Arctic snow and ice. Action in the shipping sector to reduce black carbon emissions can and should start immediately, by simply switching to cleaner fuels and installing particulate filters. Crucially, reduction of black carbon emissions must be integrated into all IMO climate initiatives with measures targeting not just CO2, but CO2 equivalent, including black carbon.”

Faig Abbasov, Transport & Environment, said: “Technology is ready to decarbonize shipping and the whole investor community is looking for the opportunity to produce sustainable fuels for ships. What is missing is a lack of guaranteed demand from the sector.

Nobody will invest hundreds of billions to produce green hydrogen unless they know that ships will use it. The most straightforward way to ensure demand is to set dedicated hydrogen offtake targets on ships for green hydrogen-based fuels. Regulators should prioritise this.”

The IMO is currently in the process of revising its existing climate strategy, which aims to only halve emissions from ships by 2050. Delegates are meeting in London for technical working group talks on 5-9 December and for the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) meeting on 12-16 December. The strategy revision is set to be concluded at MEPC 80 in 2023.
Source: Clean Arctic Alliance, Seas at Risk, Transport & Environment, Opportunity Green

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