Opportunity Green calls on international court to declare that shipping is violating international law

Press Release: Climate NGO Opportunity Green has put forward a supporting submission to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) urging the Tribunal to consider shipping emissions in its opinion.


This submission will support a request for an Advisory Opinion submitted by the Commission of Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS).


Opportunity Green’s submission is calling on the Tribunal to clarify countries’ legal obligations to stop the pollution of the marine environment and protect it from climate change impacts. In particular, it urges the Tribunal to formally recognise that countries – whether at international or domestic level – must adopt rules on vessel pollution that are in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C temperature goal to meet their legal obligations under the Law of the Sea. In practice, this will require states to agree ambitious measures to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from ships to achieve zero emissions by no later than 2050 at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in just a couple of weeks’ time.  


There is currently no regulation in place that requires the international shipping sector to reduce emissions in line with 1.5°C and the Paris Agreement. The IMO has been discussing how to tackle shipping emissions for over two decades, but its Member States have yet to reach any meaningful agreement to get international shipping on a pathway to this goal. Instead, shipping emissions are currently on a pathway to increase significantly more than other sectors.


In the first week of July, the IMO is set to adopt a revised GHG Strategy. There has never been a more pressing moment to change the course of the shipping sector to align with the Paris Agreement. However, at the intersessional working group on greenhouse gas emissions this March (ISWG-GHG 14), Member States still failed to agree on what the targets should be or outline which regulatory measures they support.


Carly Hicks, Legal Director of Opportunity Green, says:


“We are hoping that ITLOS will issue an Advisory Opinion which sets out clearly that there is an obligation on all states to take active measures to protect the marine environment by reducing emissions from shipping in line with what is needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. This kind of Advisory Opinion from a UN court would have to be taken seriously by the IMO – itself a UN body – as well as individual countries.”


The Advisory Opinion from the Tribunal will help to:


  • Accelerate action by the IMO and its Member States to comply with international law by aligning with the Paris Agreement and setting concrete targets to achieve immediate, deep reductions in emissions and zero emissions by 2050 at the absolute latest.
  • Ensure that the mitigation and adaptation needs of climate vulnerable countries – those worst affected by climate change – are met, and lay strong foundations for a fair and equitable transition.
  • Confirm how the Law of the Sea empowers and obliges all countries, particularly ‘flag’ and ‘port’ states, to combat vessel pollution and hold the shipping industry accountable for its emissions.


Carly Hicks adds: “This last point is crucial when it comes to individual states’ obligations. Even if the IMO doesn’t bring the stringent legislation forward that we are hoping for, we would like to see the Tribunal confirm that countries have unilateral obligations to act to ensure shipping emissions are reduced in line with international law.”

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