The shipping industry has made a commitment to achieve net-zero planet-heating pollution “by or around” 2050, according to an agreement published on Friday. While this marks an increase in climate ambition from a highly polluting industry, experts have denounced the deal as inadequate given the urgency of the climate crisis.
Responsible for transporting over 80% of globally traded goods, the shipping industry contributes about 3% of all human-caused planet-heating pollution due to its reliance on fossil fuels for propulsion.
Prior to this agreement, the industry lacked a commitment to reach net zero, which means removing from the atmosphere at least as much planet-warming pollution as it emits.
The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body regulating global shipping, released a new climate strategy after extensive negotiations among its 175 member states. The 2023 IMO Strategy on the Reduction of Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Ships states that shipping should achieve net-zero emissions “by or around, i.e., close to 2050,” based on national circumstances.
The plan also includes interim targets called “indicative checkpoints.” Countries are expected to aim for a minimum reduction of 20% in planet-heating pollution from shipping by 2030 and 70% by 2040, relative to 2008 levels. The document also mentions “striving” targets of a 30% reduction by 2030 and an 80% reduction by 2040.
IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim expressed that the new climate strategy provides a “clear direction, a common vision, and ambitious targets.”
Industry groups have welcomed the agreement, highlighting the maritime sector’s commitment to achieving net zero and addressing climate change in line with the Paris Agreement.
While some Pacific Island nations celebrated the adoption of higher targets, many climate groups criticized the plan, considering it toothless and a missed opportunity.
Several countries and climate experts had called for more ambitious targets, including a commitment to reducing planet-heating pollution by up to 50% by 2030 and nearing complete reduction by 2040.
Critics, such as John Maggs from the Clean Shipping Coalition, denounced the “vague and non-committal language” in the agreement, stating that more ambitious cuts were feasible and affordable. Faïg Abbasov from Transport & Environment called the agreement a missed opportunity, describing it as a wishy-washy compromise.
In the Paris Climate Agreement, countries pledged to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius, compared to pre-industrial temperatures. Scientists consider the 1.5-degree threshold critical to avoid extreme climate impacts like flooding, droughts, wildfires, and food shortages.
IMO Secretary-General Lim emphasized that the strategy marks a new chapter for shipping, but also acknowledged that it is just the starting point for intensified work in the years and decades ahead.