Decarbonization: IMO’s MEPC 78 takes just “baby steps”

Written by Nick Blenkey
IMO is set to consider new decarbonization measures8

While shipowners are dealing with whar came out of IMO's MEPC 78, more decarbonization measures are in the pipeline

Nobody is that delighted with the outcome of last week’s meeting of IMO’s Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC 78). The Clean Shipping Coalition characterized its results as “baby steps” towards increasing IMO’s decarbonization ambition, but said immediate action was still missing.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), representing 80% of the world’s merchant fleet, was particularly scathing about the committee’s failure to move forward on industry proposals for a $5 billion shipping decarbonization R&D fund, paid for by a $2/tonne levy on marine fuel


“By refusing to take forward the shipping industry’s proposed research and development fund, the IMO has wasted its opportunity to kick start a rapid transition to zero-carbon technologies which will be vital if we are to decarbonize completely by 2050,” said ICS General Secretary Guy Platten. “Despite the support of many IMO States, we have been frustrated by short-sighted political maneuvering which has led to the proposal in effect being killed. The signal this sends means that the financial risk associated with green investment will remain high, slowing down efforts to switch to zero-carbon fuels as soon as possible.

“Some claimed that the fund was a market-based measure and did not go far enough, deliberately misinterpreting our intention. The fund was never presented as a carbon pricing measure, which, although being an additional measure which we also fully support, is politically far more complex and will take many more years to develop. If governments had shown the political will, the separate R&D fund could have been up and running next year, raising billions of dollars from industry at no cost to governments.

“Despite the lack of government leadership at the IMO, the shipping industry remains committed to finding ways of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Funding for R&D will be top of the agenda at the Shaping the Future of Shipping Summit, to be hosted by ICS in London on June 21. We will bring together leading CEOs from across our global industry to find ways to practically decarbonize shipping.”

Simon Bennett, Deputy Secretary General of ICS, noted that “on the positive side, the possibility remains for the IMO to make use of the fund’s proposed regulatory architecture to underpin a future global carbon levy on shipping’s CO2 emissions, to close the price gap with zero-carbon fuels when they become available and provide significant funds to help expedite the transition to net zero by 2050. If the contribution system which we have developed can speed up implementation of a global carbon levy for shipping, we may yet be able to look back on this setback at the IMO as a significant moment of success.”


The Clean Shipping Coalition said that a clear majority of delegates at MEPC 78 were in favor of revising the IMO’s current climate strategy to decarbonize shipping by 2050 – moving the sector much closer to the Paris Agreement’s goal of keeping global heating below 1.5°C.

However, the coalition noted, achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal requires immediate action to halve emissions by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2040. It said that IMO member states have a clear duty and the necessary tools already at their disposal, both nationally and internationally, to bring down shipping emissions today. These include:

  • Increasing the level of ambition: To be fully compliant with the Paris Agreement, the IMO must commit as soon as possible to halving shipping emissions by 2030, and reach full decarbonization of the shipping industry by 2040. This is the only way to ensure a genuinely 1.5°C climate-heating pathway.
  • Enhancing Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII): Delegates must raise the existing CII requirements to a 7% annual improvement in carbon intensity, while ensuring this applies to all ships and is strictly enforceable.
  • Acting on black carbon: The IMO must agree to deep cuts in black carbon emissions from ships operating in or near the Arctic. Black carbon emissions represent 20% of shipping’s climate impact and are particularly damaging when emitted near ice and snow.
  • Supporting climate-vulnerable countries: Small Island States, Least Developed Countries, and Indigenous communities face unprecedented challenges brought on by climate change, which are not of their doing. The IMO must adopt mechanisms to account for devastating climate impacts and provide timely support for the economies of vulnerable communities to ensure a just transition.

“States are now talking about ending ship climate emissions by 2050, but years of inaction mean that target is no longer good enough,” said the Coalition’s John Maggs. “A failure to act earlier means the shipping industry has already burnt a large part of its 1.5°C carbon budget. Talk of enhanced ambition is welcome but having failed to act earlier the shipping industry must now halve its emissions by 2030 and decarbonize entirely by 2040, not 2050, to keep global heating below 1.5°C.”


“After last week, it’s clear that most states support reaching zero shipping emissions by 2050,” said Dan Hubbell of the Ocean Conservancy. “That’s an excellent start, but we can already see the usual suspects at the IMO try to delay and obstruct real, meaningful action any way they can. Time is short and the coming level of ambition, which should also include intermediary targets for 2030 and 2040, should make it clear to everyone that achieving our goal of a 1.5°C future will require an equally strong set of short term and midterm measures to enable an equitable and rapid transition.”


So, what did MEPC 78 achieve? Enough to ratchet up compliance requirements in many areas. Lloyd’s Register has prepared a 16 page summary report spelling out the nitty gritty of what the committee agreed. You can download it HERE

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