UN secretary-general lambasts states for lack of effort to decarbonise shipping

UN secretary-general calls for member states to do more to tackle shipping and aviation ghg emissions saying current targets are well below what is needed to meet the paris agreement goals

Has the secretary general of the United Nations just made the job of the secretary-general of the International Maritime Organization harder, or easier? At a United Nations Global Sustainable Transport Conference last week, Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-General  used his opening speech to put pressure on both the IMO and the International Civil Aviation Organization to push for stronger goals than they are currently targeting. The recording of his speech is below and his quoted text can be heard from about three minutes into the ten minute opening address.

“Let’s be honest. While member states have made some initial steps through the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization to address emissions from shipping and aviation, current commitments are not aligned with the 1.5-degree goal of the Paris Agreement.


In fact, they are more consistent with warming way above 3 degrees. 


Adopting a new set of more ambitious and credible targets that are truly consistent with the goals of the Paris Agreement must be an urgent priority for both these bodies in the months and years ahead.”

Guterres’ speech comes as UN member states prepare to send delegates to COP 26 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to discuss stronger national commitments, as well as prepare for the next intercessional meeting of the IMO’s greenhouse gas working group, which is prior to the 77th meeting of the IMO’s marine environment protection committee.


The increased pressure is to target faster decarbonisation of shipping, which will include speeding up the introduction of measures that are currently on the table to achieve this.


The IMO’s MEPC meeting is very much controlled by the IMO member states and the delegations they opt to send to the meeting. Just like the UNFCCC meetings. However, the pressure from Guterres will be to make sure that the promises made at COP 26 are reflected in decisions at MEPC.


For some states the representatives at COP26 are not aligned with those attending MEPC. Some states send representatives form environment ministries to the former, but transport ministries to the latter, or have permanent representatives (some do not live in the countries they represent and may work from consulates in London or remote offices.

Are countries obliged to put shipping emissions into their NDCs under the PAris Agreement?

Should the IMO continue to fail to have targets that are consistent with 1.5 degree warming target with the Paris Agreement, there is the growing risk of shipping finding it is subject to increased action that is regional.

As each country submits its national determined contributions, they should be including shipping in these measurements says Estelle Dehon from Cornerstone Barristers in London.


She has prepared a brief for the Brussels based lobby group Transport and Environment looking at the wording of the Paris Agreement and whether it gives exclusive control of shipping to the IMO, and she says it does not.


There is, she said during a webinar last week to talk about the findings, and the objectives of the European bloc which is bringing shipping into its targets.

In her report writes:


“The obligation to include international aviation and shipping emissions in NDCS is particularly clearly imposed on developed country parties who are exhorted in Article 4(4) (of the Paris Agreement) to undertake economy-wide absolute emissions reductions targets. International aviation and shipping emissions are deeply integrated into countries’ economies and certainly fall within the definition of of emissions involving the whole of a country’s economy.”


Furthermore, there is no language in the Paris Agreement prioritising addressing international aviation and shipping emissions through ICAO and IMO and Article 6, concerning voluntary cooperation in the implementation of NDCs, supports that analysis.”

In the recording of the Transport and Environment webinar Estelle Dehon gave an explanation of her findings, notably she said ( see from 4’24” in the recording below):

“The outcome of my advice is that the Paris Agreement itself imposes legal obligations on states, parties, to include international aviation and shipping emissions within their nationally determined contributions, i.e. they should not just report on international aviation and shipping emissions, but they should include them within the emissions that their nationally determined contributions seek to mitigate.”


But will member states make the effort to include shipping into their national efforts, or prefer to take no responsibility and leave it to the IMO (and ICAO for aviation’s emissions)?

The European Commission and Parliament have the belief that shipping should be part of the bloc’s regional efforts, notably through the revision of the European emission trading scheme. At the same webinar that Dehon spoke about her analysis of the Paris Agreement, European Parliament member Jytte Guteland (from Sweden) said that Europe should be responsible for regulating half of shipping’s emissions (namely through the instruments being discussed in the ‘Fit for 55’ package of reforms and rules),that other parties to COP should take the rest, but that carbon pricing will be an important factor.

European proposals within the ‘Fit for 55’ package that include shipping revolve around four main pieces of renewed or new regulation. The most talked about is the inclusion of shipping into the European ETS.


However the proposals within Fit for 55 will be worked on over the coming years, and require agreement from the triumvirate of entities within the EU, namely Parliament, Commission and Council of Ministers.


This could take more time than thought especially as the European presidency switches every six months and each nation will have parts of the Fit for 55 proposals (most have nothing to do with shipping) it will want to prioritise.

The speed with which Europe can get its regulations in place will no doubt also be taken onboard by the IMO’s MEPC delegations with their increased societal pressure to drop their political positions and align with the requirements of the Paris Agreement

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