Maritime nations aim for net zero shipping emissions by 2050, but experts push for bolder goals


WASHINGHT0N(AP)-In an effort to combat climate change, maritime nations have been working on a plan to drastically reduce emissions from the shipping industry and achieve net-zero emissions by approximately 2050. However, experts caution that the proposed deal falls short of what is necessary to avert a climate catastrophe.

During the meeting of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization in London, negotiators have been discussing crucial measures to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels. The agreement, expected to be officially approved on Friday, sets a target for shipping emissions to reach net zero “by or around” 2050, without establishing a firm deadline.

The draft plan also outlines a goal to reduce shipping emissions by at least 20% by 2030, with a further aim of 30%, and at least 70% by 2040, gradually working towards 80%. Pacific nations have pushed for more ambitious targets, but the proposed plan falls short of experts’ calculations. They argue that the shipping industry must reduce emissions by 45% by 2030 and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 to align with the 1.5-degree Celsius temperature goal.

In response to the draft plan, environmentalists warn that the shipping industry would exceed its carbon budget by 2031. Carbon budget refers to the maximum amount of carbon dioxide that various industries and countries can emit before exceeding global warming limits. Faig Abbasov, a representative from the Brussels-based environmental non-governmental organization Transport and Environment, describes the climate talks as rearranging deckchairs on a sinking ship, criticizing the lack of a clear course towards the 1.5-degree Celsius target.

The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents 80% of the world’s commercial fleet, expresses concerns about the plan’s lack of focus on practical measures to achieve the targets. The group calls for a levy on greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry, aiming to encourage investment in alternative fuels and support developing countries in reducing planet-warming emissions from ships. However, environmentalists argue that this approach would have little effect and delay the transition away from fossil fuels.

According to Simon Bennett, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Chamber of Shipping, the industry expects that the majority of shipping will rely on new fuels, which are estimated to be two to four times more expensive than the current fuel oil. Bennett emphasizes the need to create a market for these new fuels and highlights options such as methanol, ammonia, hydrogen, sustainable biofuels, synthetic fuels, and carbon capture technology. However, scalability remains a challenge for these alternatives.

John Maggs, shipping policy director at Seas At Risk and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, stresses the importance of ambitious 2030 targets to unlock investments in clean shipping technologies. He urges for a clear signal to companies providing emission reduction equipment, enabling them to confidently invest in these technologies. Maggs argues that a weak 2030 target would be a missed opportunity for the industry.

Once the IMO plan is adopted, major port nations like the United States, China, and Korea could further strengthen emission limits within their jurisdictions, according to Madeline Rose, senior climate director at the advocacy group Pacific Environment. She suggests that setting firm emission standards in major markets can drive broader industry responses, similar to the impact seen with cars and trucks. Rose emphasizes that solutions to reduce emissions already exist, and it is crucial to create policy conditions that encourage the shipping industry to invest in these alternatives rather than relying on cheap fossil fuels.

Targets for the shipping industry will be reviewed every five years, which raises concerns that the industry may contribute significantly to global warming before further plans are evaluated in 2028. The previous target set by the IMO aimed for a 50% reduction in shipping emissions from 2008 to 2050. Currently, shipping accounts for nearly 3% of greenhouse gas emissions, as stated by the IMO. However, a report from the European Parliament warns that this share could dramatically increase by 2050 if the sector’s reliance on fossil fuels is not addressed.

Ships play a vital role in global trade, transporting approximately 90% of all traded goods. Unfortunately, they also contribute significantly to pollution, emitting around one billion tons of greenhouse gases annually, which is equivalent to the emissions of 243 coal plants. Moreover, approximately 40% of all products transported by ships are coal, oil, and gas, which further contribute to atmospheric warming when burned.

A study conducted by University College London estimates that each year of delay in implementing emission reduction measures will cost the shipping industry an additional $100 billion to achieve net-zero emissions.

As the plan moves forward, it is crucial for major port nations, including the United States, China, and Korea, to take additional steps and establish even more stringent limits within their jurisdictions. This proactive approach can lead to a broader market response and drive the industry towards cleaner practices, similar to what has been observed in the automotive sector.

While the proposed plan represents progress in addressing shipping emissions, experts emphasize the need for more ambitious targets and decisive actions. Achieving the net-zero goal by 2050 requires a comprehensive strategy that includes investment in alternative fuels, development of scalable technologies, and the establishment of clear policies that incentivize the adoption of cleaner practices.

The shipping industry stands at a crossroads, with the opportunity to play a significant role in combatting climate change. By embracing innovative solutions and committing to substantial emission reductions, the industry can contribute to a sustainable future and mitigate the adverse effects of global warming.