IMO sets out new plan for global shipping's move to net zero emissions by 2050

Mon 10 Jul 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Building of International Maritime Organization

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN’s shipping agency, announced a new strategy on Friday (7 July) to reduce carbon emissions from the ocean logistics sector.

After a week-long meeting (3-7 July) of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80) in London, the IMO said that all 175 member states had agreed to adopt the plan.

The document – entitled ‘Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships’ – sets out a number of goals, principles and checkpoints, all with the stated aim of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the shipping industry, in a bid to hit net zero “by or around 2050”.


It is not legally binding, despite being approved by IMO members unanimously and widely endorsed by officials.

Two ‘indicative checkpoints’ contained in the document would be to reduce total annual emissionsfrom the sector, compared with 2008 numbers, by at least 20% by 2030 and at least 70% by 2040,.

Key pillars

Key pillars in the strategy include improvements in the energy efficiency of ships and an increased uptake of zero or near-zero emission technologies, fuels and energy sources, although the exact details of implementation are being left to member states.

States should agree to a ‘basket’ of medium-term measures by 2025, with longer-term solutions being agreed to by 2030.

The document mandates that these medium-term solutions should include both an economics-based element – namely a maritime emissions pricing system – as well as a technical element, including a fuel standard which reduces the carbon intensity of the industry.

However, a proposed ‘carbon levy’ to make shipping companies pay into a fund based on the amount of carbon they emit, appears to have been left out of the agreement.


As reported previously in the IOE&IT Daily Update, a fully fleshed-out maritime carbon levy was seen as unrealistic, with nations like the US, Russia and China remaining cautious.

Although France, Greece and Japan reportedly supported the motion, it is now unlikely that a carbon tax will be adopted in the next few years.

Simon Bennett, International Chamber of Shipping deputy secretary general, said that such a levy needed to be introduced to “support a ‘fund and reward’ mechanism.”

He promised “the industry will do everything possible to achieve these goals”.

Lloyd’s List reports that proposals to credit shipowners for using biofuel were removed from the strategy as some delegates feared they could have prevented alternative fuels from being adopted or impacted upcoming reviews into the carbon intensity of shipping.

First step

IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim described the plan as “monumental” but cautioned that it was “a starting point for the work that needs to intensify even more over the years and decades ahead of us”.

Lim, a former South Korean diplomat and port administrator, is stepping down at the end of this year, with elections for his successor scheduled for 18 July.

‘Key improvements’

The International Council on Clean Transport described the new plan as making a pair of ‘key improvements’ on hitting the “zero date” of 2050 and its focus on life-cycle emissions.

Fuel life-cycle emissions take into account the carbon cost of material extraction and manufacturing as well as the emissions produced from direct use.

However the strategy has prompted criticism from various environmental groups, who pointed out that it was not binding and questioned whether the measures taken would be enough.

‘Better than nothing’

The Guardian reports that Ana Laranjeira, shipping manager at Opportunity Green, said the agreement “did not get us to 1.5C. We need to continue to work to decarbonise international shipping in a just and equitable manner as soon as possible.”

John Maggs, president of the Clean Shipping Coalition, said that “the level of ambition agreed is far short of what is needed to be sure of keeping global heating below 1.5C, and the language seemingly contrived to be vague and non-committal.”

Baroness Natalie Bennett, former head of the Green Party of England and Wales, said that it was “terribly weak, but better than nothing”.