Decarbonisation And Shipping: International Maritime Organization Ambitions And Measures

Publication Date09 November 2020
SubjectEnvironment, Transport, Energy and Natural Resources, Energy Law, Environmental Law, Oil, Gas & Electricity, Marine/ Shipping, Clean Air / Pollution
Law FirmHill Dickinson
AuthorMs Beth Bradley and Rachel Hoyland

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is the division of the United Nations (UN) which regulates shipping. The shipping industry is not directly regulated by the various international treaties which aim to tackle global warming at an international level, see our previous article, Decarbonisation and shipping - the coming change, for details. However, the IMO is committed to responding to the growing climate crisis and to ensuing that the shipping industry contributes to the global reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Accordingly, in April 2018, at the 72nd session of the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), the IMO voluntarily adopted an initial strategy on reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships setting out its plan for urgently reducing GHG emissions from shipping.

The key ambitions of the initial strategy are:

  • to reduce the carbon intensity of international shipping compared to 2008 levels, by 40%, by 2030;
  • to increase that reduction to 70% by 2050;
  • to reduce GHG emissions from international shipping, again compared to 2008 levels, by at least 50%, by 2050; and
  • to achieve zero GHG emissions as soon as possible within this century, ie by 2100.
  • The IMO is working to achieve these ambitions by way of a mixture of means, including pre-existing energy efficiency measures and new measures applicable in the short, mid and long-term.

Pre-existing measures

In 1973, the IMO adopted the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL). Originally orientated towards the prevention of oil pollution, MARPOL has developed since 1973 to deal with a broader range of ship-source pollution issues, including pollution by garbage, sewage, ballast water and stemming from the recycling of ships. MARPOL has also been developed to address pollution caused by GHG emissions and in July 2011, at the 62nd session of the MEPC, the IMO adopted the MARPOL Annex VI Regulations on Energy Efficiency for Ships (the Regulations).

The Regulations, which came into force on 1 January 2013, are the first rules to ever establish CO2 standards across any global sector. They apply to existing and newly built vessels, although in different ways, and set out various energy efficiency measures which ships must comply with.

Existing ships

For existing ships, the Regulations require that all ships have a Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP). This is a management plan for improving the energy efficiency of the ship by...

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