Shipping emissions – the stakes are high

in Trends by

There was a lot at stake at the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) talks held in London in the week after Easter. With global shipping collectively producing more CO2 emissions than Germany, for example, the IMO was discussing proposals to limit and reduce emissions by ships. Their share of global CO2 emissions has been around 2-3% in recent years.


Shipping was excluded from the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement because as a global cross-border industry, it is almost impossible to break down individual countries’ contributions. The main driver for the growth of global shipping emissions is the rise of international trade, which is projected to almost double by 2035 and continue growing at around 3% per year until 2050.


Zero emissions from shipping by 2035 is the most ambitious proposal on the table at the IMO. This was put forward by the Marshall Islands, which is not only home to the world’s second-largest shipping registry but also dangerously exposed to rising sea levels. The Marshall Islands have been supported by European countries who are also pushing for binding targets to bring the shipping industry in line with the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement.


Some major industry players, including the giant Brazilian iron-ore exporter Vale, did persuade the IMO to agree on a preliminary, though weak, deal on cutting emissions by half by 2050. The stakes are indeed high but key stakeholders have contrary interests: on the one hand, big commodity-exporting countries like Brazil and Saudi Arabia; on the other hand, climate-vulnerable island states. Ultimately, the only pathway to a low and ultimately zero-carbon future for shipping will be the embracement of new fuel technologies.