Most of the world’s nations agreed to an historic deal that for the first time will limit emissions from the global shipping industry.
After a week of negotiations at a London meeting of the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations body, envoys from 173 countries agreed to cut emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 from 2008 levels. Saudi Arabia and the U.S. both objected.
The accord is a significant step in the fight against global warming. Shipping, the only industry not included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement, would rank as the sixth-largest greenhouse gas emitter if it were a country, according to the World Bank. If left unchecked, that share could account for 15 percent of global carbon emissions by 2050, a five-fold increase from today.
“It is likely this target will tighten further, but even with the lowest level of ambition, the shipping industry will require rapid technological changes,” said Tristan Smith, a reader at University College London’s Energy Institute.
Vessels typically burn heavy fuel oil, one of the cheapest but also among the dirtiest fossil fuels. The industry wasn’t included in the Paris agreement because each country presented an individual plan to reduce their own emissions, while the seas were left out.
Friday’s agreement commits to pursuing emission cuts that will be consistent with the Paris deal goals.
Reducing the industry’s emissions has been a hotly contested issue. One of the most vociferous proponents of emission controls have been the Pacific island nations, where rising sea levels are already swallowing up land, and the rate is expected to increase in the coming decades.
Other countries have resisted targets. Oil producing nations including Saudi Arabia have expressed concern about the impact of the measures on their fuel supply business, while some countries have said controls could penalize those that are far from the world’s main consumer hubs.
Canada, Argentina, Russia, India, Brazil, Iran and the Philippines also raised concerns over the proposals for reasons ranging from worries that targets could have a negative effect on global trade to a lack of sufficient data.
“A principle of the IMO is to have no discrimination and that’s what differentiates the deal and that’s not the IMO’s principle,” said Jeffrey Lantz, director of commercial regulations and standards at the U.S. Coast Guard and head of the U.S. delegation.
This isn’t the first time the IMO has tried to be cleaner. Six years ago, the organization adopted design requirements to make new vessels more energy efficient. More than 70 percent of container ships built between 2013 and 2017 exceed the standard, which sets limits on carbon emissions per ship, according to analysis from Transport & Environment, a Belgian NGO.
“The IMO should and could have gone a lot further but for the dogmatic opposition of some countries,” said Bill Hemmings, shipping director at Transport & Environment. “Scant attention was paid to U.S. opposition. So this decision puts shipping on a promising track.” Anna Hirtenstein, Jeremy Hodges, Bloomberg