Shaping a Sustainable Future: Key Milestones Achieved at MEPC 80 for Reducing Shipping Emissions

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The IMO has released its 2023 IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from ships building upon its ongoing efforts to address emissions from international shipping.

Based on the Fourth IMO GHG Study 2020, shipping-related GHG emissions accounted for approximately 2.89% of global anthropogenic emissions in 2018. Without action, these emissions could reach between 90% and 130% of the 2008 levels by 2050.

During the 80th meeting of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80) held from 3 to 7 July 2023, representatives from various organizations and ports convened to discuss crucial measures aimed at reducing GHG emissions from ships. The primary focus was on formulating strategies to achieve a net-zero trajectory for the industry by approximately 2050, taking into consideration diverse national circumstances.

This event has provided clearer guidance for the shipping industry in terms of the necessary steps to achieve the goal of net-zero emissions by or around 2050. Although some states and organizations expressed dissatisfaction with the IMO’s set targets, there is a general consensus that progress has been made towards mitigating emissions.

Revamped 2023 IMO GHG Strategy

The objectives of the session centered around three key areas:

  1.  Strengthening the IMO’s contribution to global initiatives such as the Paris Agreement and United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, with the aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in international shipping.
  2. Identifying actions that the international shipping sector should undertake, while considering the impacts on individual states and supporting the consistent growth of global trade and maritime transport services.
  3. Specifying actions and measures that will contribute to achieving the aforementioned objectives, including incentives for research and development and the monitoring of GHG emissions from international shipping.

Following intense negotiations, the participants of MEPC 80 reached a unanimous agreement on a revised 2023 IMO GHG Strategy. This new strategy sets more ambitious targets for achieving a net-zero future for international shipping by around 2050. This agreement represents a significant milestone in the journey toward emission reduction, outlining strategic actions to be taken in the short and medium term.

While this agreement means substantial progress, several nations in the Pacific Islands, Europe, and North America expressed disappointment with the level of ambition reached during MEPC 80. Environmental groups and researchers also voiced concerns that these targets fall short of the goals necessary to limit global warming to 1.5°C.

However, it is important to acknowledge that during the event, emphasis was placed on the importance of providing Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Low-Developed Countries (LDCs) with the opportunity to catch up with developed nations and achieve a level playing field in terms of emissions reduction for these territories.

Interim Targets and Next Steps

MEPC 80 has outlined specific milestones to be achieved in order to reach the net-zero objective outlined in the 2023 IMO GHG Strategy. The levels of ambition guiding this strategy are as follows:

  • Improvement of energy efficiency for new ships: The carbon intensity of ships should decline by implementing further enhancements in energy efficiency design requirements for new vessels.
  • Reduction of carbon intensity in international shipping: The aim is to achieve a decrease in CO2 emissions per transport work, averaging at least 40% by 2030 compared to 2008 levels.
  • Adoption of zero or near-zero GHG emission technologies, fuels, and energy sources: Efforts should be made to increase the utilization of technologies, fuels, and energy sources that have minimal or zero greenhouse gas emissions. By 2030, these should account for at least 5% of the energy used in international shipping, with a goal of striving for 10%.
  • Attainment of net-zero GHG emissions from international shipping: The objective is to peak GHG emissions from international shipping as soon as possible and achieve net-zero GHG emissions by or around 2050. This aligns with different national circumstances and emphasizes efforts to phase out emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement.

Furthermore, two indicative checkpoints have been established to guide the progress towards net-zero GHG emissions from international shipping:

  • By 2030, total annual GHG emissions from international shipping should be reduced by at least 20%, with an aspiration to reach 30%, compared to 2008 levels.
  • By 2040, the aim is to decrease total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least 70%, with an aspiration to reach 80%, compared to 2008 levels.

Comprehensive Impact Assessment of  Mid-Term Measures

During MEPC 80, it was decided that a comprehensive impact assessment (CIA) would be conducted for the proposed mid-term measures outlined in the revised strategy. This assessment will evaluate the technical and economic aspects of the measures adopted, their feasibility, and their effectiveness.

To oversee the CIA process, a Steering Committee has been established. The Committee will present an interim report during MEPC 81. The objective is to finalize the mid-term measures by 2025, taking into account the impact on states and the industry.


Contributions towards increased collaboration

The MEPC 80 meeting saw the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) presenting two important submissions. The first submission provided a progress report on the efforts and initiatives of world ports in reducing GHG emissions from ships. It highlighted the need for continued collaboration between shipping, ports, and terminals to overcome challenges, including supporting onshore power supply (OPS) infrastructure in developing countries.

The second submission, co-sponsored by IAPH, ICS, Interferry, and CLIA, emphasized the positive role of OPS in the future maritime energy mix. It recommended accelerating the development of OPS infrastructure globally and urged further studies to analyze power requirements for ships at berth. The submission also proposed utilizing a portion of revenues from an economic measure to support investments in port OPS infrastructure.

These initiatives address important aspects related to reducing GHG emissions in the shipping industry, including collaboration, infrastructure development, and financial support. They provide valuable insights and recommendations for industry stakeholders to work towards a more sustainable and environmentally friendly maritime sector.

How is the industry reacting to the new IMO strategy?

The industry’s response to the release of the emission reduction strategies from MEPC 80 has been focused on readiness and exploring available technical and operational solutions to meet the IMO’s goals. Shortly after the meeting, DNV conducted several online sessions where industry stakeholders were polled on their perspectives on the most crucial solution for achieving a minimum 20% reduction by 2030 compared to 2008. The poll results are as follows:

The utilization of carbon-neutral fuels, particularly biofuels, is considered a prominent solution for achieving emission reduction goals. DNV predicts that biofuels will be readily available in the market and scalable in the near future.

While there is a consensus on the effectiveness of carbon-neutral fuels for achieving maximum reductions by 2030, there are also technical and operational measures that can accelerate emission reduction at a lower cost and faster pace.

A recent study conducted by CE Delft indicates that it is technically feasible to achieve a 28-47% reduction in shipping emissions by 2030 compared to 2008. This reduction would require several measures, including a speed reduction of 20-30% compared to 2018, widespread adoption of wind-assisted propulsion in applicable vessels, and the use of zero-GHG fuels accounting for 5-10% of energy sources. The results obtained by this research are supported by field trials developed by PortXchange demonstrating that just-in-time arrivals on a global scale would result in an emissions reduction of 16%.

Approximately half of the emission reductions can be attributed to lower speeds and operational measures, one quarter to wind-assisted propulsion and other technical measures, and another quarter to the utilization of zero and near-zero-GHG fuels. This highlights the significance of short-term actions that enhance the operational efficiency of existing vessels in reducing emissions today, while also facilitating the transition to more costly zero-emission fuels in the long term.

The Way Forward

The outcomes of MEPC 80 demonstrate the IMO’s commitment to combating climate change and reducing GHG emissions from international shipping. While challenges remain and some stakeholders desire higher ambition, the agreement paves the way for a transformative shift in the shipping industry. The next meetings, ISWG-GHG 16 and MEPC 81, will further discuss and refine measures to accelerate emissions reductions in the maritime sector.

In conclusion, the outcomes of MEPC 80 show progress toward decarbonizing the shipping industry and highlight the collaborative efforts of governments, industry, and international organizations. Achieving the net-zero target by 2050 will require continued innovation, investments, and global cooperation. The transition to a sustainable shipping sector is both a challenge and an opportunity for the industry to combat climate change and ensure a cleaner future for generations to come.

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About the author

Adriana Belei
Sr. Digital Marketer
Senior B2B Marketer dedicated to empowering innovative businesses within the logistics sector. With a keen focus on crafting compelling messaging strategies, at PortXchange she specializes in delivering campaigns to effectively communicate the company’s vision, products, and services and drive tangible results.

Adriana Belei

Sr. Digital Marketer

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