Nations aim to zero out shipping emissions by mid-century

Nations aim to zero out shipping emissions by mid-century

LONDON – Negotiators from nearly every country reached a provisional agreement on Thursday to effectively eliminate the shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by as close to 2050 as possible.

The breakthrough was made at an annual meeting in London of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the global shipping regulator.

The agreement, set to be formally signed on Friday, also sets goals for emission reductions to be reached by 2030 and 2040.

According to delegates who were present at the talks, which were closed to reporters, the agreement’s ambitions were tempered by representatives of countries with major economic interests in oil production and maritime trade.

But a strong last-minute push from small island nations and other poorer coastal countries led to commitments from the organisation that are in line with limiting global warming to 1.5 deg C.

This is the threshold most climate scientists say the world must avoid crossing to avert the worst effects of climate change.

“We fought tooth and nail for these numbers,” said Mr Carlos Fuller, Belize’s representative at the United Nations, who also negotiated on behalf of the small Caribbean nation in London.

“They aren’t perfect, but they give us a shot at staying within 1.5 deg C. And that’s what we came here to do.”

The shipping industry accounts for around 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions.

Ships that transport fuel, ore, grain and containers full of consumer goods typically burn heavy fuel oil, which is more emissions-intensive than most other fossil fuels.

As the world’s population continues to grow and countries develop more robust trade, the global shipping industry is also set to grow. Currently, roughly 90 per cent of international trade happens on ships.

Transitioning away from that fuel will require governments, as well as oil and gas companies, to invest in zero-emission alternatives.

These could include green hydrogen or its derivative, green ammonia.

Such fuels are produced using renewable electricity such as wind and solar power to drive processes that convert water into fuel.

This transition is not as simple as just subsidising more hydrogen production. New ships, new tankers, new pipelines and even new port infrastructure will be necessary to facilitate its use.

Ship-makers have already started delivering vessels that can run on liquefied natural gas, which is still a fossil fuel but nevertheless cleaner than heavy fuel oil.

While those new ships outsold oil-dependent ones in 2022 for the first time, ships generally remain in use for at least 25 years, meaning the vast majority of the world’s cargo ships – some 60,000 of them – are heavy polluters.

The IMO agreement is not binding, and is meant more as a signal to governments of where they should benchmark their targets.

It stipulates that by 2030, governments should require shipping companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by “at least 20 per cent” as compared with 2008.

By 2040, this increases to “at least 70 per cent”.

A so-called net-zero target, at which point the industry would have mostly eliminated its emissions and offset the remaining amount, is meant to be achieved “by or around, that is, close to, 2050”.

Pacific island nations, in particular, had fought for a more definitive target of 2050 specifically.

While many of them rely heavily on shipping for tax revenue, they have also suffered disproportionately the effects of climate change-driven sea-level rise and supercharged cyclones.

Negotiators described their strategy as “high risk, high reward”.

“This important step would not have been possible without unwavering Pacific leadership, as well as profound solidarity from countries all over the world in recognising our vulnerability and heeding our call,” said Mr Albon Ishoda, the Marshall Islands’ negotiator at the talks. NYTIMES

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