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Current Climate Targets Set for International Shipping are Far too Lax

A new study by researchers from The University of Manchester indicates that the existing climate targets set for international shipping are way too lenient, and would imply that the sector cannot play its honest part in meeting the Paris climate goals.

Current Climate Targets Set for International Shipping are Far too Lax.

Image Credit: The University of Manchester.

In view of the COP26 climate summit to be held in Glasgow, United Nations Secretary, General Antonio Guterres, has strongly criticized the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for its lack of efforts to reduce carbon emissions from the shipping sector. International shipping alone contributed to emissions the size of Germany. However, the progress is very gradual.

Existing IMO targets predict zero emissions reductions for the sector before 2030, which would result in shipping emitting more than double the emissions needed to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees.

Published in the Climate Policy journal, the new study concludes that considerably powerful short- and longer-term targets must be set for the sector to align with the Paris Agreement’s goals: 34% decrease in 2008 emissions levels by 2030, and zero emissions before 2050, in comparison to the sector’s current target of a 50% reduction in CO2 by 2050.

Most significantly, it is imperative to strengthen the target by the IMO’s 2023 strategy revision date.

According to Professor Alice Larkin, the longer the delay in setting new targets, the steeper resultant decarbonization trajectories.

It has to be all hands on deck for international shipping now. Immediate action that focuses on operational change and retrofitting existing ships is needed to deliver major emissions reductions this decade, or shipping cannot deliver its fair part in meeting the Paris climate goals.

Alice Larkin, Professor, The University of Manchester

Delay beyond 2023 would mean the future transition for international shipping is too rapid to be feasible. Nations should state at COP26 that they will ensure shipping has Paris-compatible targets and policies for 2030 and 2050,” added Professor Larkin.

The COP26 to be held this November mandates countries to bring more ambitious climate targets for 2030, named Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), to put the globe on track to limit global heating to 1.5 degrees.

The Manchester-based researchers have been urging nations to push the IMO to release a clear statement during this year’s COP26 that shipping should be set Paris-compatible targets.

According to the findings of this study, this pressure must be translated into actual movement from the IMO with respect to their climate action. New targets, and policies to achieve them, cannot wait.

Journal Reference:

Bullock, S., et al. (2021) The urgent case for stronger climate targets for international shipping. Climate Policy.


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