Paris climate deal must tackle shipping emissions, say experts

Speaking at a side event of COP21, industry and observers warn the International Maritime Organization is letting key sector off the hook

(Flickr/Louis Vest)

(Flickr/Louis Vest)

By Megan Darby in Paris

A Paris climate agreement must not let ships off the hook for their greenhouse gas emissions, delegates heard at a side event of COP21 on Saturday.

Accounting for 2-3% of global emissions today, the sector’s share is projected to grow to 6-14% by 2050 as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) refuses to cap carbon.

If not addressed, this will make it hard to meet a UN goal to hold global warming to 2C or even 1.5C, experts warned.

Tony de Brum, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, said: “It is very clear that in our quest for a 1.5C world, we need all countries and all sectors to commit to meeting the emissions reduction challenge.”

Exclusive: Marshall Islands minister Tony de Brum set to lose election
Report: UN shipping chief warns against emissions cap

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) has declared its support for a Paris deal, saying the industry is on course to halve emissions for each tonne of freight by 2050. Yet it has resisted a sector-wide target at the IMO.

Tristan Smith, shipping expert at UCL, said much deeper emissions intensity cuts were needed. Based on a 2C warming limit and the sector continuing to account for 2-3% of global emissions, the figure should be 80-90% by 2050.

The notion of achieving this without regulation – as ICS proposes – “cannot be evidenced or justified by any literature or research that we can think of,”  he said. “The organisations that have the power to lead… aren’t recognising the scale of the challenge or pushing hard enough at the IMO.”

The latest draft Paris agreement, published on Saturday morning, includes a paragraph on international transport, which is not covered by national carbon-cutting pledges.

Excerpt from the latest draft Paris climate agreement on shipping and aviation

Excerpt from the latest draft Paris climate agreement on shipping and aviation

John Maggs of campaign group Seas at Risk said the language calling for “limitation” of emissions from marine bunker fuels was too weak: “It has got to go.”

Within the shipping industry, he said there were some progressive companies, but it was the more conservative ICS that made its voice heard. “There is a culture of exceptionalism… We heard those excuses as to why the shipping industry can’t do what is necessary.”

There are cost-effective ways for shippers to cut fuel use 50-75%, said Thomas Egebo, top official at Denmark’s energy and climate ministry: “A number of other sectors would probably envy the shipping industry for these low-hanging fruits.”

That was echoed by Maria Bruun Skipper, director of the Danish Shipowners Association. Members had improved carbon efficiency 6% from 2013 to 2014, she said, and wanted to see stronger regulation globally to match EU standards. “We would like to see the [UN climate body] send a clear message to the IMO.”

Read more on: COP21 | Shipping | UN climate talks