Ships to get free pass on emissions until 2030, under compromise proposal

Ship efficiency measures backed by a broad coalition of 14 countries will fail to reduce emissions in line with industry and Paris climate goals, campaigners warn

Shipping accounts for around 3% percent of global greenhouse gas emissions (Photo: DerellLicht/Flickr)


A proposal by leading maritime nations to curb the industry’s carbon footprint falls far short of both the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and Paris Agreement climate goals, shipping experts have warned. 

Japan, China, South Korea, Norway and several EU member states are among 14 countries to agree on a package of energy efficiency measures for existing ships, ahead of next week’s IMO environmental committee meeting. The International Chamber of Shipping also backs the submission.

In the proposal, seen by Climate Home, they suggest imposing a combination of mandatory short-term technical and operational measures on the world’s 60,000 vessels, from reducing engine power to introducing ship-level carbon intensity targets. These measures would not be enforced until 2030 – a decade too late, green groups say.

Bryan Comer, a senior researcher at the International Council on Clean Transportation, told Climate Home that the proposal ignores scientific and technical recommendations made by climate campaigners. “What’s on the table now may not even be enough to achieve the IMO’s minimum 2030 target. It’s certainly not Paris-aligned,” said Comer. 

“Every year that we allow shipping emissions to go up, it is eating up more of the carbon budget. More drastic actions will need to be taken later,” Comer said.

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The proposal is modelled on Japan’s Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) which would impose energy efficiency targets on existing ships based on their type and size, and is supported by Norway, Greece and Panama. 

Limiting engine power to reduce emissions is the easiest way for ships to comply with EEXI, according to a report by the ICCT. EEXI would only make ‘a small contribution’ to the IMO’s climate goals and reduce CO2 emissions from the existing fleet by just 0.8-1.6% by 2030, the ICCT concluded. 

In the new IMO proposal, the countries suggest combining EEXI with other operational measures, including a carbon intensity indicator, proposed by Denmark, Germany and France, which would set individual targets for every ship. 

Campaigners describe it as a compromise, which lacks urgency and commitment to address the scale of the problem. International shipping produces around one billion tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions every year, accounting for 3% of annual global emissions. Without further action, ship emissions in 2050 are expected to reach 90-130% of 2008 levels

Faig Abbasov, shipping programme director at Brussels-based think-tank Transport & Environment, told Climate Home that many of the measures, including limiting engine power, are “empty shell” pledges. “Ships aren’t using their engine power to the maximum anyway,” he said. 

“The measures are voluntary for the next decade. There is no reason for member states to go beyond what the regulation says. They will just wait until then,” Abbasov said.

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The IMO has set the target of cutting CO2 emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels, with carbon intensity reduced 40% by 2030. When the IMO announced these targets in 2018, it said it was  pursuing “a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.” But experts say the IMO targets are not in line with the strongest Paris Agreement goal to limit global warming to 1.5C. “This requires full decarbonisation by 2050,” said Abbasov.

“Leaving the efficiency of ships unregulated for another decade, the clear and intended result of this proposal, is certain to allow shipping’s huge 1 billion tonnes of annual GHG emissions to keep rising for the next 10 years and beyond,” said Kate Young, a campaigner for Generation Climate Europe, the largest coalition of youth-led NGOs in Europe.

The IMO’s 2018 strategy said it would prioritise short-term measures that achieved emissions reductions before 2023.

The countries trying to push enforcement back until 2030, and for some ships only, are simply hoping no-one will notice they are removing all the ambitious bits of a major international climate agreement reached by over 100 countries just two years ago,” Young said. 

The proposal came a few days after the EU Parliament voted to include maritime CO2 emissions in the EU carbon market from 2022, following criticism that shipping is the only sector to not face emissions reduction targets. The decision will force shipowners to buy carbon permits to cover emissions during voyages in Europe or international voyages which start or finish at a European port. 

The EU decision could force the IMO to ramp up its climate ambition, campaigners say. “By going first, the EU is putting pressure on the IMO to act,” Abbasov said.

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