Compromise found on “Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships”

After two weeks of tough negotiations, during which many countries set out incompatible positions threatening to undermine the chances of arriving at an agreement, a compromise text for the IMO’s initial strategy for reduction of GHG emissions from ships was adopted at the 72nd session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee on Friday 13 April, 2018.

This sends a strong signal about the IMO’s commitment to phasing out greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping as soon as possible, consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals. The initially agreed “level of ambition” to reduce the sector’s total GHG emissions at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels was the most hotly contested point. It was viewed as far too weak by many, while a large number of countries objected to defining a reduction figure at this stage as they felt it is premature and not based on evidence.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim and Sveinung Oftedal, who chaired the working groups on the IMO’s GHG strategy  (Photo courtesy of IMO)

MEPC 72 was preceded by an intersessional working group (WG), chaired by Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, to develop a draft text for a WG at MEPC 72 to finalise and present to the Committee for adoption at this session. Already at the intersessional WG, it was clear that consensus would not come easy. In addition to long discussions on defining the “levels of ambition” for reducing GHG from international shipping, there was also difficulty agreeing on how to draft the “guiding principles” for the strategy, regarding different responsibilities between developed and developing countries, while also requiring full compliance with IMO regulations by all ships irrespective of flag. The overarching ‘Vision’ statement was also subject to long discussions. It wasn’t plain sailing for the rest of the Initial IMO GHG Strategy either, but it was less contentious.

Addressing MEPC 72  on Friday morning, the last day of the meeting, IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim encouraged member states to adopt the compromise text although, he conceded, it may not be completely satisfactory to everyone. Failing to adopt the Initial IMO GHG Strategy was “not an option,” he stressed, reminding the Committee that the Strategy is a key starting point; it is not the final outcome.

IMO has agreed to present a revised GHG Strategy in 2023, when it has data from its mandatory fuel consumption data collection and a new IMO GHG Study to better define shipping’s actual contribution to GHG emissions.

The Initial IMO GHG Strategy includes:

Vision statement:
IMO remains committed to reducing GHG emissions from international shipping and, as a matter of urgency, aims to phase them out as soon as possible in this century.


.1 enhancing IMO’s contribution to global efforts by addressing GHG emissions from international shipping. International efforts in addressing GHG emissions include the Paris Agreement and its goals and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDG 13: “Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts”;

.2 identifying actions to be implemented by the international shipping sector, as appropriate, while addressing impacts on States and recognizing the critical role of international shipping in supporting the continued development of global trade and maritime transport services; and

.3 identifying actions and measures, as appropriate, to help achieve the above objectives, including incentives for research and development and monitoring of GHG emissions from international shipping.

Levels of ambition:

.1 carbon intensity of the ship to decline through implementation of further phases of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) for new ships

.2 carbon intensity of international shipping to decline
The stated aim is to reduce CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, by at least 40% by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008; and

.3 GHG emissions from international shipping to peak and decline
The stated aim is to peak GHG emissions from international shipping as soon as possible and to reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 whilst pursuing efforts towards phasing them out as called for in the Vision as a point on a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.

The initial strategy also contains a “ LIST OF CANDIDATE SHORT-, MID- AND LONG-TERM FURTHER MEASURES WITH POSSIBLE TIMELINES AND THEIR IMPACTS ON STATES” – starting off with technical and operational energy efficiency measures and then start transitioning to low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels.

Report by Unni Einemo:

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