climate change transport

International shipping emissions: we have a deal

Here’s a transport related news story that passed me by a couple of weeks ago like – well, like a ship in the night. There was an international gathering of the International Maritime Organisation in London recently. The IMO is a UN body with responsibility for the seas and shipping, and it has now formally adopted climate targets for the industry.

As you may remember, emissions from shipping were left out of the UN climate agreement. They occur in international waters, so it has been difficult to include them in national climate strategies. Instead it was left to the industry to work out how best to lower its own emissions. And the good news is that it has: the shipping industry will aim to cut carbon by 50% by the year 2050.

That isn’t a reduction that represents true sustainability. The Clean Shipping Coalition says that would be at least a 70% cut. It’s also given itself a more generous baseline of 2008, rather than the 1990 levels that the UN recommends. Nevertheless, it’s impressive as a voluntary industry response. As usual, any kind of a deal has to be negotiated in the face of opposition. In this case the obstacles have been, among others, a fossilised delegation from Saudi Arabia, shipping interests in Panama, and general trolling from the US. It takes a long time to work these things through – talks were announced as part of the Kyoto agreement in 1997, so that’s taken over 20 years.

In other words, these things are really difficult, and in that context, a halving of emissions is pretty good going.  To see how ugly it could have been, look no further than the parallel debate in the aviation industry, which has put forward a desultory offer based on offsetting rather than reducing its climate impact.

The shipping industry has actually made some steps towards progress already. It managed to agree efficiency measures and data collection targets a few years ago, which have laid the groundwork. Standards for new ships have been rising. And the industry recognises that it ultimately needs to move beyond fossil fuels altogether. There are many ways of doing that, none of them immediate or cheap, but it’s definitely possible.

There’s more to do, but for now, well done to the shipping industry for concluding its talks and securing an agreement.

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