Governments should send same message through delegations to IMO as UNFCCC

Governments should be doing more to align their ministries towards increased climate ambition, particularly when it comes to their approach towards the debates at the International Maritime Organization. The warning came from Nigel Topping, who is the high level champion for climate action at the UNFCCC’s COP26 later this year.


Mr Topping was talking at a World Bank webinar on decarbonization of shipping during a very digital Singapore Maritime Week.


“I know that a lot of people are looking to the IMO to show leadership and are skeptical at that moment, because they feel they haven’t seen it., “ he said. “So, I would encourage all governments to make sure that your IMO delegations are sending a clear message on the need for rapidly increased ambition. We can’t continue to have one set of ambitions communicated through climate ministries and a separate one through transport ministries,” he warned.


We can’t continue to have one set of ambitions communicated through climate ministries and a separate one through transport ministries.

Nigel Topping, UK High Level Climate Action Champion

Over the last week the UK made an increased pledge to cut its ambitions by 78% by 2035 based on 1990 levels, and the US, during a Biden high level climate summit last week, has said it will begin to position itself in a leadership position, and will be re-engaging with the IMO’s climate discussions. The expectation is that greater targets will be sought in the short term goals for the industry.


Topping also said that he sees a lot of convergence across industries and a growing belief that increased targets are possible, and that “all signs point to hydrogen and ammonia being the most promising zero emission fuels being ready by 2024, ready to order by 2022” and that financial institutions are beginning to turn away from assets involved in “dead end” LNG trades a comment focused on one of two World Bank reports on shipping’s decarbonization that suggested a limited role for LNG as a marine fuel.


He pointed also to market-based measure proposals that are at the IMO’s marine environment protection committee for its next meeting in June.


“Long term, we’ve got to have a level playing field,” he added. “I think it’s going to mean that some sort of carbon levy or similar forcing mechanism. And the IMO role is going to be critical. The discussions at MEPC in June, on the proposals from the Marshall and Solomon Islands will be, I think, be an important opportunity for the IMO to indicate its commitment to playing an active role in the transition to net zero.”


And this is why Topping believes the IMO member states should send negotiators who have the same ambitious goals as they do if going to the UNFCCC meetings, however this may be hard for some countries to do.


Over the years the IMO delegations have been split severely over the one ideal of shipping having a no-favorable treatment” approach to regulations, meaning that all regulations apply to all shipping, while the climate discussions within the UN framework called for common but differentiated responsibilities, a phrase drawn up because it was seen that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions had largely come from the developed rich countries while the poorer countries have neither contributed as heavily to the problem, nor have the financial capacity to reduce emissions or mitigate the impact of climate change.


The IMO’s MEPC meets in early June, and is currently scheduled to meet again in early November, a date which clashes directly with the UNFCCC’s COP26 in Glasgow.


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