IMO: Climate neutral shipping? UN organization discusses goals

All sectors of the economy must make their contribution to the fight against climate change, worldwide.

IMO: Climate neutral shipping? UN organization discusses goals

All sectors of the economy must make their contribution to the fight against climate change, worldwide. All experts largely agree on this. So far, however, there are no concrete and binding global guidelines for shipping as to how and when ships should sail the world's oceans without emitting any greenhouse gases. In order to change that, the Environment Committee of the World Maritime Organization IMO has been discussing new rules for climate protection in London since Monday. A decision is expected this Friday.

How important is shipping in terms of climate change?

Around 90 percent of global trade in goods is handled by ship. The often huge container ships mostly run on heavy fuel oil or marine diesel, some also with liquid natural gas LNG - all of them fossil fuels, the use of which releases the greenhouse gas CO2. Around three percent of global CO2 emissions are attributable to international shipping. "If shipping were a country, it would already be in sixth place among all CO2 emitters worldwide, ahead of Germany," the environmental association Nabu calculated. According to forecasts, the share could increase significantly if expectations of an increase in shipping traffic come true.

The EU already has rules, so what role does the IMO play?

That's right, the EU wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by 55 percent by 2030 compared to 1990 and become climate-neutral by 2050. Because shipping companies and shipbuilders operate worldwide, uniform international rules are important, also to create the same competitive conditions worldwide within the maritime economy. And the IMO, a sub-organization of the United Nations (UN) with currently 175 member countries, is responsible for the global regulation of the sector.

What is the current position of the IMO?

In 1997, the IMO noted that CO2 emissions have a negative impact on the environment. However, the IMO only decided on a strategy for climate protection in 2018 and announced a revision for 2023. So far, the IMO roadmap envisages reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008 levels, without at the same time specifying specific mechanisms for how this can be achieved. Complete climate neutrality has so far been put off - the emission of greenhouse gases should be ended "as soon as possible in this century". A few developing countries and oil-producing states have so far blocked a sharper course. The German shipyard association VSM once accused the IMO of being "on the crawl" when it comes to climate protection.

Which decisions of the IMO are expected?

The IMO has announced that it is expected to adopt an updated IMO Greenhouse Gas Strategy. It will "include concrete greenhouse gas reduction targets for the sector and is expected to outline a basket of technical and economic measures to be developed to put global shipping on an ambitious path to progressively reducing greenhouse gas emissions," the IMO said. At the start of the deliberations, UN Secretary-General António Guterres made an urgent appeal to the delegates: "I urge you to leave London with a greenhouse gas strategy that commits the sector to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest," said him in a video message.

What is the attitude of the maritime economy?

In order to have a secure basis for investments, she hopes that the IMO will set an ambitious course. As far as their own goals are concerned, however, important players in the maritime sector are even further ahead than the IMO. For example, the world shipowners' association ICS, not least on the initiative of the German Shipowners' Association (VDR), has set itself the goal of climate neutrality by 2050, as has the international association of the cruise industry, Clia. Individual shipping companies want to be there earlier, the cruise line Aida Cruises and the Danish container shipping company Maersk, for example, in 2040; Hamburg-based Maersk competitor Hapag-Lloyd has set a target of 2045. However, according to the VDR, an IMO regulation is something different than a voluntary commitment. "Tackling the climate crisis requires a strong legal framework," writes Maersk in a position paper.

Are there already climate-neutral ship propulsion systems?

Various solutions are being discussed for drives and fuels of the future. An important factor will be whether the fuel is available in sufficient quantities everywhere. Weight and space requirements also play a role. Batteries - as they are already common in car traffic - are only suitable for shipping on short distances. For example, the shipping company Scandlines soon wants to use a battery-powered ferry between Germany and Denmark. For long distances, ammonia and methanol are the most popular. "Ammonia is not an issue in container and passenger shipping at the moment - the safety concerns are simply too great," says Hapag-Lloyd. Currently, the journey is likely to be in the direction of methanol. For example, Maersk has already ordered several freighters to run on green methanol, the first of which is scheduled to go into service as a feeder ship on the Baltic Sea this year.

What are the consequences for consumers?

The shipping companies face high investments for the construction or conversion of ships. In addition, alternative fuels, such as methanol produced in a climate-neutral manner, are significantly more expensive than the fossil fuels previously used. Hapag-Lloyd therefore assumes that consumers must be willing to bear the additional costs for sustainable transport. "However, it must also be taken into account that the transport costs for the individual T-shirt or television would only increase slightly."