IMO sets short-term goals to cut shipping emissions

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) will continue to target a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 rather than a more ambitious plan to eliminate emissions entirely. 

The decision came during the 77th session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 77) in November. The 50% reduction target is based on 2008 emissions levels.  

Some industry leaders, however, argue the MEPC 77 outcome demonstrates a lack of urgency to decarbonize the maritime sector. That sentiment grew from efforts at the UN Climate Change COP26 conference in this fall in Glasgow that pushed for net-zero emissions goals by 2050.

“We are disappointed that the words and commitments made by governments at COP26 have not yet been translated into action,” International Chamber of Shipping Secretary-General Guy Platten said in a statement.

The maritime industry has proposed a suite of decarbonization measures, including the creation of a $5 billion research and development fund. The IMO committee also is considering a levy-based carbon price for shipping. 

At MEPC 76 in June 2021, IMO regulators adopted technical and operational measures designed to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets established in the 2018 Initial IMO Strategy for Reducing GHG Emissions from Ships.

“The stakes are high, and adoption of short-term measures at this session is crucial to our ability to deliver on the commitments we have made in our initial strategy, said Kitack Lim, IMO secretary-general, in his opening statement at the June virtual conference. “Let me be blunt, failure is not an option, as if we fail in our quest, it is not unreasonable to conclude that we run the risk of having unilateral or multilateral initiatives.”

The measures include the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI), the enhanced Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating program. 

“It is really too early to tell how implementation of the EEXI/CII will go as more work needs to be done on the CII guidelines,” said Kathy J. Metcalf, president and CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America. “Class societies will work with shipowners to develop a plan to incorporate the EEXI/CIIs into their compliance plans.” 

Under the CII program, the industry committed to reducing greenhouse gases by 11% by 2026, compared to 2019 levels. However, some delegations said the measures were not strict enough to meet the longer-term goals.

Under the new measures, all ships will be required to calculate their existing efficiency index and follow technical means to improve the vessel’s energy efficiency. They also must establish an annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) and CII rating. Carbon intensity links the GHG emissions to the amount of cargo carried over distance traveled.

Ships will be rated according to their energy efficiency from A to E, with A as the top rank. Administrations, port authorities and other stakeholders are encouraged to provide incentives to ships rated as an A or B to signal to the market and financial sector to promote compliance.

Any vessel rated D or lower for three consecutive years will be required to submit a corrective action plan to achieve a C or higher. One proposal under consideration is to allow a fleet average for the CII. 

These measures support the IMO’s strategy to reduce the carbon intensity of international shipping by 40% by 2030 (compared to 2008) and pursue efforts to achieve a 70% reduction by 2050. The IMO has targeted total annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping for a 50% reduction by 2050.

In 2023, the IMO will review data from ship performance and could revise the strategy.