Shipping set to boost climate targets

A draft agreement, which is subject to change, would target net zero near 2050 and set goals for 2030 and 2040

Governments are set to agree to boost the global shipping sector’s emissions reduction targets, at talks in London this week.

After a week of behind closed door negotiations, the talks chair put together a draft strategy on Monday which includes improved emissions cut targets for 2030, 2040 and 2050.

The strategy aims for the sector to reach net zero either “by” or “around” 2050 and targets emissions cuts on 2008 levels of 20% by 2030 and 70% by 2040.

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The document has yet to be approved, is subject to change and is less ambitious than some governments and environmental groups are calling for – but it’s a clear step up in ambition from the sector’s current goals.

Net zero in sight

In 2018, governments’ shipping negotiators agreed to cut emissions in half on 2008 levels by 2050 – despite concerns that the target was too ambitious from nations like Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia and Donald Trump’s USA.

On the other hand, campaigners called for full decarbonisation by 2050 and, as support has grown in the intervening years, now look likely to get their wish.

The draft strategy document commits shipping to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions either “by 2050 at the latest” or “by or around 2050”.

That second, weaker target could include language around “different national circumstances”, which would give more leeway to developing countries.

In their speeches to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) talks this week, the “2050 at the latest” goal was supported mainly by Pacific islands and developed countries.

The UK’s negotiator said 2050 should be “the absolute latest” and that the targets should be “in terms that can not be misunderstood”. IMO rules prohibit directly naming negotiators.

On the other hand, several big developing countries like China, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia called for the weaker “around 2050” target and the inclusion of language about “different national circumstances”.

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Saudi Arabia’s representative called for a “flexible and adaptable approach” while China’s said that shipping enabled economic growth which gave the world more money to spend battling climate change.


While supporting a 2050 net-zero goal, several negotiators echoed Costa Rica’s in saying that alone is “not enough” and that interim targets are necessary.

The sector currently has no 2030 or 2040 targets and its emissions are expected to keep rising, unless it changes its ways.

The draft strategy includes a emissions cut target of 20% for 2030 and 70% by 2040, on 2008 levels. These could be supplemented by an agreement to “striv[e] for” 25% and 75% respectively.

Both targets are less than what the European Union, USA, UK, Pacific islands and others were calling for and less than what the Science-Based Targets Initiative say is aligned with 1.5C of global warming.

Australia’s negotiator said they were “not ambitious enough” and “the world is watching – more than I’ve ever seen it watching”.

The Marshall Islands negotiator Albon Ishoda told journalists that “the science already told us” that “anything less than 36% by 2030 and 96% by 2050 will be detrimental” to limiting global warming to 1.5C and that will “have a devastating impact”.

But, sources involved in last week’s closed talks, said some countries like China, South Africa and Saudi Arabia didn’t want 2030 or 2040 targets at all.

Six main proposals for new shipping GHG targets on deck @IMOHQ this week… China leading charge against as apparently tougher targets in line with 1.5C would undermine UN #climate talks. Work that one out.

— Ed King (@edking_I) July 2, 2023

The talks

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