SMOKE ON THE WATERS: 173 countries have agreed to curb shipping emissions, in negotiations with the International Maritime Organisation. Picture: JASPER JUINEN/BLOOMBERG
SMOKE ON THE WATERS: 173 countries have agreed to curb shipping emissions, in negotiations with the International Maritime Organisation. Picture: JASPER JUINEN/BLOOMBERG

London — Most of the world’s countries have agreed to a mandatory 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 Organisation (IMO), a UN body, envoys from 173 countries agreed to cut emissions by at least 50% by 2050 from 2008 levels. Saudi Arabia, the US and Russia all 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% 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.

Hot issue

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 Brazil and Argentina have said controls could penalise countries that are far from the world’s main consumer hubs.

This isn’t the first time the IMO has tried to be cleaner.

Six years ago, the organisation adopted design requirements to make new vessels more energy efficient. More than 70% 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.

"Making new ships emit less carbon dioxide is the most obvious way to de-carbonise the sector because ships have long lifetimes, usually around 25 to 30 years," said Faig Abbasov, a shipping officer at Transport & Environment. "If you don’t build new ships more efficiently, those ships will still be sailing around in the middle of the century."

Bloomberg

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