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IMO deal charts course to 'at least' halve emissions by 2050

Sat 14 Apr 2018 by Jamey Bergman

IMO deal charts course to 'at least' halve emissions by 2050
IMO's MEPC adopted a draft agreement on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships

The United Nations’ International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has agreed a milestone framework to reduce total annual global shipping emissions by at least 50% over 2008 levels by the middle of the 21st century.

Of IMO’s 173 member states, 171 voiced support for the adoption of an initial strategy on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from shipping on the final day of the Marine Environment Protection Committee's (MEPC) 72nd session in London on 13 April.

The United States and Saudi Arabia reserved their positions to the terms of the framework.

With much public attention focused on IMO and the potential for an emissions cap agreement at the MEPC 72 meeting, more than 70 delegations took the chance to convey their official views on the agreement. 

Brazil, Russia, India and Iran were among the countries expressing concerns or reserving their positions on the section of the document that sets out GHG emissions caps.

Several other states however, said the document could and should do more to cut shipping emissions.

Voices calling for higher levels of reduction included those from within the European Union as well as Pacific Island nations.

Well into the afternoon session, MEPC chair Hideaki Saito announced the adoption, and, after a round of applause, the Chinese delegation followed up with a statement referencing US astronaut Neil Armstrong’s well-known first words broadcast from the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.   

International shipping bodies with consultative status at IMO including Bimco and International Chamber of Shipping, too, reacted positively to the decision.

BIMCO deputy secretary general and delegate at the IMO meeting Lars Robert Pedersen said “IMO has done something no one has done before: set an absolute target for emissions reductions for an entire industry. It is a landmark achievement in the effort to reduce emissions, and something that every other industry should look to for inspiration.”

In his prepared remarks, ICS secretary general, Peter Hinchliffe referenced the landmark 2015 Paris Agreement to which the IMO GHG framework is tied.

“This is a ground-breaking agreement – a Paris Agreement for shipping – that sets a very high level of ambition for the future reduction of CO2 emissions,” he said. “We are confident this will give the shipping industry the clear signal it needs to get on with the job of developing zero CO2 fuels, so that the entire sector will be in a position to decarbonise completely, consistent with the 1.5°C climate change goal.”

The strategy, as adopted, includes the guiding principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” (CBDR—RC), a UN principle contained within the Paris Agreement that mitigates the responsibilities on developing countries of fighting climate change, placing more responsibility on developed countries.

Several states expressed concern over the inclusion of the CBDR—RC principle, notably Canada. Others lauded the inclusion of CBDR—RC and related instruments to promote increased financial flows, technology transfer and capacity building between developed countries and the UN-termed Least Developed Countries (LDC) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS), notably the Philippines and Indonesia.

The agreement also includes IMO’s “no more favourable treatment” principle to ensure regulation is applied equally to all vessels.

The MEPC will continue to convene and review the terms of the agreement over the next five years before a long-term strategy is developed in 2023. IMO will undertake a data collection project on greenhouse gas emissions from vessels between 2019 and 2021 to provide a statistical foundation for reaching consensus on decarbonisation goals.

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