Momentum has built towards an ambitious revision of the GHG reduction strategy as two weeks of IMO negotiations conclude.

The thirteenth Intersessional Working Group on Greenhouse Gases (ISWG 13) and seventy ninth session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 79) meetings have kept the IMO’s work to revise its GHG reduction strategy and develop new measures on track. Momentum has built towards an ambitious revision of the GHG reduction strategy, and whilst there remains no certainty of an outcome, the next round of policy developments at ISWG 14 (March 2023), and then finalisation at ISWG 15 and MEPC 80 (July 2023) will take the outputs from this meeting (a draft text for the Revised Strategy) as their starting point.

There was a clear voice calling for high ambition from a range of countries with varied economic development, and from industry organisations. This included support for 1.5-alignment in levels of ambition, the need for well-to-wake (WTW) to frame GHG reductions, the need for a levy and a fuel standard, and the need for policy to enable equitable transition. As an example of the breadth of support, World Shipping Council and Korea echoed many points originally introduced by leading voices of high ambition, the Pacific countries Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands. The meeting saw new voices join the ambitious side of the debates. There were several positive statements made towards increased ambition by African countries, and support from India, Saudi Arabia amongst others for a new ambition that at least 5% of the fuel mix in 2030 is ‘alternative’ fuels, a concept also supported by the United States.

Dr Tristan Smith, Director of UMAS said: ‘’This meeting was a test of whether the IMO was building momentum towards an ambitious revision of the strategy next July, or whether large groups of countries would coordinate against that outcome. Evidence from the meeting supported an ambitious revision, which is a positive sign for further IMO regulatory support for shipping’s transition.”

Concerns relating to increases in transport cost, voiced by a number of middle-income countries, continue to be raised. However, this group of around 10 countries seemed more isolated than in previous rounds of debate, now that more ambitious statements are being made by other developing countries (not just a group of Pacific SIDS). Rather than the debate being polarised between developed economies and a small group of SIDS on one side, and a large group of developing countries on the other side, this is now a multi-layered debate with various different agendas appearing in interventions.

Dr Aly Shaw, Policy Lead at UMAS said “The most encouraging signal from the last two weeks of IMO meetings was the breadth of countries engaging with the concept of a Just and Equitable Transition. Member States signalled their openness to the concept and desire to work towards a collective understanding of how this can be achieved in policy. One of the most fundamental parts of an equitable transition is high and 1.5 aligned ambition and while the zero GHG emissions by 2050 ambition was strongly voiced throughout the meeting, there remains further work needed to get a minority of countries to support this ambition and additionally to agree on 1.5 aligned interim targets.”

One potential explanation for this is that many countries are clearly seeing the opportunity for renewable energy and hydrogen/hydrogen derived fuel. For example, Namibia, was very clear on this in their interventions, but many others listed new investments and developments relating to hydrogen as evidence of how seriously they were taking the need to address the risk of dangerous climate change. The potential upside of further investment, enabled by IMO regulation, means that for many countries it is not only downside risk due to impacts on trade that frames their view on the IMO GHG debate, as was often presented previously.

The meeting further progressed the topic of mid-term measures (policies that can enable a fuel transition), and it is now possible to see a narrowing of the options feasible in July – which is necessary in order to move onto the comprehensive impact assessment and finalisation of some form of carbon pricing, and a technical measure (e.g. fuel standard). The objectives of the group for these measures were further clarified in the meeting – in addition to securing GHG reduction and energy transition, these will need to ensure a just and equitable transition.

Click here to download the UMAS readout on IMO ISWG13 and MEPC 79