The United States has signed on to the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) new goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050.
John Kerry, the Biden Administration’s Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, in April announced the U.S. supports aggressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the maritime industry. He said the country will work toward eliminating them by 2050, rather than at the end of the century as outlined in the initial IMO strategy announced in 2018.
The IMO’s initial decarbonization plan will undergo review by IMO member nations at the 76th meeting of the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) in June. At that meeting, known as MEPC 76, member states will consider additional guidelines and requirements under MARPOL Annex VI, some of which may take effect as early as 2023.
The European Commission has previously pushed the IMO to be more aggressive in cutting emissions and has called for the shipping industry to eliminate greenhouse emissions by 2050, rather than only a 50-percent reduction as called for in the initial IMO Strategy.
“The international shipping sector produces a level of greenhouse gas emissions that is equivalent to the emissions of a major national economy,” Kerry told a conference hosted by the Ocean Conservancy in April. “But the technologies that we need to decarbonize shipping are known to us. They need investment, and they need to be scaled up.
“It is incumbent on all nations to send a clear signal to industry, so they will make the right investments in a clean future,” he continued.
With the commitment, the United States joined Saudi Arabia as the only countries that have formally pledged to work toward the IMO’s greenhouse gas objectives.
The U.S. commitment came after European Union and British officials sent a letter to President Biden in March urging the U.S. to address shipping emissions under the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The letter included the IMO’s recommendation that responsibility for all ship emissions should be split between the country of origin and the country of destination.
Kerry’s statement suggests the United States is closely aligned with many European IMO member states when it comes to reducing emissions from the shipping industry. The announcement included the term “zero emissions” rather than “net-zero emissions,” which suggests the Biden administration supports the complete elimination of greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by 2050, without resorting to market-based offsets.
The U.S. Department of State’s Shipping Coordinating Committee, in conjunction with the U.S. Coast Guard, held a public meeting to discuss the various agenda items to be covered at MEPC 76, including greenhouse emissions from shipping. If the IMO’s efforts are successful, the industry can expect more stringent ship emissions and efficiency requirements under MARPOL Annex VI on a more aggressive timeline.
Some international shipping lines, such as Maersk, have already developed strategies that exceed IMO standards due to pressure from customers, cargo owners and shippers who support emission reduction efforts.
The U.S. Congress is also addressing the issue. On April 15, 2021, the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee held a hearing on decarbonization of the maritime industry. Through industry testimony, Congress has recognized that decarbonization of the maritime industry is a massively complex undertaking.
The hearing focused on four primary objectives: developing an active U.S. presence in international standards bodies, federal investment in ports and shoreside infrastructure, development of alternative fuel technologies, and identifying costs associated with complying with new standards.