Home / F+L Magazine / Ambitious, but not impossible: IMO targets 50% emissions reduction by 2050

Ambitious, but not impossible: IMO targets 50% emissions reduction by 2050

“Ambitious, but not impossible.” This, the view of Lars Robert Pedersen, BIMCO deputy secretary-general, on the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction targets for international shipping unveiled by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) on April 13. IMO, a U.N. agency based in London, announced reductions of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from shipping by at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008, while pursuing efforts towards zero emissions “as soon as possible.” The targets were announced as part of an initial strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions for international shipping.

Lars Robert Pedersen

Pedersen, a delegate at the recent IMO meeting at their London headquarters from 9-13 April, declares that “IMO has done something no one has done before: set an absolute target for emission reductions for an entire industry. It is a landmark achievement in the effort to reduce emissions, and something that every other industry should look to for inspiration.” Though he concedes that achieving this goal will not be easy, he believes the industry can deliver the stated ambition “even if we don’t exactly know how, yet.” With approximately 2,000 members, BIMCO represents 56% of global tonnage and is the largest shipping association in the world.

IMO is the United Nation’s specialized agency responsible for the safety and security of shipping and the prevention of marine pollution by ships. The initial GHG emissions reduction strategy was adopted by IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) during its 72nd Session. The meeting, which was chaired by Japan’s Hideaki Saito was attended by representatives from more than 100 IMO member states.

The strategy forecasts an imminent peak in GHG emissions from international shipping. Alternatively, Pedersen says that emissions from shipping have previously summited, in 2008, and “have already been decoupled from the growth in the world economy.” Irrespective of the veritable statistic, it appears industry efforts to reduce GHG are under way. IMO says the adoption of the GHG reduction strategy reinforces their ongoing commitment to combating the material threat of climate change.

IMO’s strategy itself details “a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.” The Paris Agreement, a global response to the threat of climate change, was formalized in 2015 by parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and became active in 2016. Despite international shipping not being included in the agreement, on the surface IMO appears unwavering in their efforts to combat GHGs from international shipping. However, is this truly the case?

A March report from OECD’s International Transport Forum “Decarbonising Maritime Transport: Pathways to zero carbon-shipping by 2035” claims 100% carbon dioxide reductions are attainable for shipping as early as 2035 by the deployment of currently known technologies. Moreover, several parties have argued maintaining consistency with the Paris accord would necessitate 100% GHG cuts by 2050. IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim, in comments prior to MEPC adopting the strategy, conceded that the deal is a “compromise position” that some may be unhappy with.

Previously, the European Union (EU) had threatened to include shipping in its emissions trading scheme in the absence of a satisfactory GHG strategy by 2023. However, it seems this preliminary approach is sufficient to keep the EU at bay. EU Commissioner for Transport Violeta Bulc and EU Commissioner for Energy and Climate Action, Miguel Arias Canete, have welcomed the maritime agreement on CO2 reductions as “a significant step for ward in the global efforts to tackle climate change.”

The strategy’s stated vision confirm that “IMO remains committed to reducing GHG emissions from international shipping and, as a matter of urgency, aims to phase them out as soon as possible in this century.” While ‘ASAP’ is unlikely to reassure interested bystanders of its immediacy, the document does define “levels of ambition” to lessen GHG emissions, and a variety of measures that could be executed in either the short (to 2023), medium (to 2030) or long-term (2030 or after). Documentation also includes an assortment of support structures which include capacity building, technical cooperation and research and development.

Pedersen believes “the strategy reinforces existing IMO regulations to enhance the energy efficiency of ships and sets out the long-term goals. This will guide the development of new technology and the design of new ships.”

“Levels of ambition” directing the initial strategy for the international shipping sector are threefold including a decline to peak GHG emissions as soon as possible and a reduction in the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050, whilst pursuing efforts towards phasing them out consistent with Paris Agreement temperature goals. The strategy also targets a minimum 40% decline in carbon intensity of international shipping to reduce CO2 emissions per transport work by 2030, and ongoing efforts towards a 70% reduction by 2050, again compared to 2008 levels. Finally, implementation of further phases of the energy efficiency design index (EEDI) for new ships will be reviewed with the aim of strengthening energy efficiency design requirements.

A working group has been tasked with maintaining the impetus of the project, developing a program of follow up actions and identifying the best course of action to progress emissions reduction work prior to the fourth Intersessional meeting of the Working Group later in 2018.

The announcement of targets and adoption of strategy were not the only important agenda items during the April meeting. MEPC 72 also considered the implications of the changes on the planned implementation of a lower sulphur limit. The sulphur limit will be reduced to 0.50% m/m (mass by mass) from 1 January 2020, from 3.50% m/m, for ships operating outside designated emission control areas, a move IMO says will “significantly reduce the amount of sulphur oxides emanating from ships and should have major health and environmental benefits.”

IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee

The MEPC approved, with a view to adoption at MEPC 73 (22-26 October 2018), draft amendments to MARPOL Annex VI to prohibit the carriage of non-compliant fuel oil for combustion purposes for propulsion or operation on board a ship.

The exception would be for ships fitted with an approved ‘equivalent arrangement’ to meet the sulphur limit, such as an exhaust gas cleaning system (EGCS) or so- called ‘scrubber’, which are already permitted under regulation 4.1 of MARPOL Annex VI. These arrangements can be used with ‘heavy’ high sulphur fuel oil as EGCS clean the emissions and therefore can be accepted as being at least as effective at meeting the required sulphur limit. Additionally, ships undertaking research trials of emission reduction and control technology can be exempted under regulation 3.2 of MARPOL Annex VI.

For a ship without an approved equivalent arrangement, the effect of the draft amendment, which would enter into force on 1 March 2020, would be that the sulphur content of any fuel oil used or carried for use on board shall not exceed 0.50%.

IMO’s Sub-Committee on Pollution Prevention and Response (PPR) is currently developing guidelines to support the implementation of the 2020 sulphur limit. An intersessional working group will meet on 9 to 13 July 2018, to ensure appropriate guidelines can be considered and issued in good time.

These guidelines will cover a range of issues related to implementation, including ship planning for implementation; verification and control issues; and fuel oil non-availability reporting.

Consistent implementation of the 0.50% sulphur limit for all ships will ensure a level playing field is maintained, with the result that the expected improvement of the environment and human health will be achieved. Sulphur oxides (SOx) are known to be harmful to human health, causing respirator y symptoms and lung disease. In the atmosphere, SOx can lead to acid rain, which can harm crops, forests and aquatic species, and contributes to the acidification of the oceans.