Shipping industry ‘missed the boat’ on 1.5°C pathway, as UN maritime meeting delivers insufficient commitments to cut greenhouse gases

Posted on July, 07 2023

WWF calls on shipping companies to take voluntary actions to align their activities with limiting global warming to below 1.5°C.
London, UK (Friday 7 July) - The UN International Maritime Organisation meeting (MEPC 80) concluded today with member states failing to agree on a greenhouse gas strategy that would bring the shipping sector in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C warming target. 

Despite a significant improvement on the previous strategy five years ago, the measures agreed are not in line with what scientists say the sector must do to do its fair share in preventing catastrophic climate change. The shipping industry currently contributes 3% of greenhouse gas emissions globally, with forecasts showing emissions could more than double by 2050 without action.

Mark Lutes, WWF head of delegation at the IMO, said: “The IMO emissions reduction strategy has missed the boat on the 1.5°C pathway. There’s no time for half measures, vague commitments and slow progress. We need all sectors to follow the science and raise their ambition to limit warming to below catastrophic levels. The world is in deep water and levels are rising, with climate impacts already devastating lives around the world. 

“Disappointingly, the shipping industry regulator has left the sector with targets and measures off course for emissions reductions at the scale and pace needed. But voluntary actions, along with ambitious mandatory measures to be agreed by the IMO over the next 2 years, can help close the gap. Shipping firms must now take the initiative and adopt science-based targets that put them on track for a 1.5°C aligned pathway to zero-emission shipping by 2050.” 

Even with its drawbacks, it is still hoped that this new IMO strategy will send a powerful signal to the sector and to fuel producers that the transition is accelerating and the demand for zero and near-zero carbon fuels will need to scale up dramatically this decade. Individual shipping companies can and must exceed the IMO’s targets by aligning with the Science-Based Targets’ initiative’s maritime guidance, which would see a 37% emissions reduction by 2030 and a nearly total emission reduction by 2040 (96%). 

Elena  F. Tracy, Senior Advisor, Sustainable Development, WWF Global Arctic Programme said: “After prolonged delays and decades of damaging impacts in the Arctic, it is welcome to see the IMO finally adopt a recommendatory resolution which encourages a fuel switch to reduce black carbon emissions. Black carbon is the soot-like particles released when burning fossil fuels in ship engines. These particles settle on ice and snow and accelerate their melt. This is particularly harmful for Arctic climate, ecosystems, and coastal communities. The new IMO recommendations on black carbon reduction will not be enough on their own. We need the shipping sector to go further than the targets set out in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy and take rapid action to switch to cleaner shipping fuels with significantly reduced black carbon emissions."

Contact Mandy Jean Woods for further information.
White-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris), jumping in front of a freighter ship.
© Ola Jennersten / WWF Sweden