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China fails in bid to omit reference to tougher shipping climate change targets in key IMO report

Many attending the Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting lauded the increased number of countries that now want tougher greenhouse gas shipping targets, but there were no concrete decisions on how to achieve them

A last-minute debate in the final hour of a five-day meeting at the International Maritime Organization exposed the divisions among the 175 member states about revising goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

CHINA failed in a last-minute bid to water down references to tougher climate change targets in global shipping at the end of a key International Maritime Organization meeting on Friday.

The country’s delegate called for the omission of text in the Marine Environment Protection Committee’s final report that referenced a “strengthened level of ambition” in revised greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.

The committee was approving the 120-page draft report in the last hour of a five-day session, usually a procedural affair that does not provoke debate or meaningful change.

“The revision of the strategy should be a comprehensive review and it should not merely focus on strengthening the level of ambition,” the delegate said as she asked for the sentence to be removed.

The ensuing debate between developing and developed countries over the word “strengthened” underscored the sensitivity and wide division still apparent among the 175 members at the United Nations agency over setting updated climate change goals.

The IMO committee next meets in July when it must finalise revisions to its initial greenhouse gas strategy, first agreed in 2018.

A draft text of the revised strategy prepared this week ahead of the July meeting showed that many key targets have still yet to be decided.

Delegates attending the intersessional working group where the draft was produced failed to agree interim targets for 2030 and 2040, or a zero-emission or net zero target by 2050, according to the submission to the committee meeting.

The IMO’s current goal, to cut emissions by half by 2050, does not meet Paris Agreement goals to limit warming to 1.5° Celsius.

There was disagreement over whether to upgrade the 2050 goal, as well as any new targets for cutting the carbon intensity in shipping by 2030. Some proposals requested a 60% drop from current levels of 40%.

While many attending the meeting lauded the rising number of countries that now wanted tougher targets, there were no concrete decisions on how to achieve them.

A range of technical and economic measures to support the use of zero-emission fuels in the medium term, including levies on fuels or taxes on carbon, were discussed but none agreed.

Targets for the percentage of the fleet to be using zero-or-near emission fuels in the future, or whether emissions should be measured via so-called tank-to-wake or well-to-wake methodologies were discussed but no final decisions made.

“The shipping industry urgently needs clear market and regulatory signals to reduce the investment risk surrounding alternative energy sources and technologies,” said International Chamber of Shipping secretary-general Guy Platten.

There was also pushback on the use of green shipping corridors, according to a summary of views expressed in the working group and published in the final report of the MEPC.

Green corridors connect two ports with ships using zero-emission technologies. The Clydebank declaration signed by 23 countries at COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 aimed to establish six green corridors by 2030.

The “unilateral” approach of green corridors “undermined shipping’s international nature and would likely cause market distortion”, according to some views within the working group. Others supported voluntary green shipping corridors.

A proposed IMO Green Corridors Programme, which appears under the category of “additional levels of ambition” in the draft text for the revised strategy, did not agree how many could be established by 2030 or 2040.

Also included for discussion in the draft under the revised strategy was a mandatory greenhouse gas levy applied to all bunkers from 2025 at an initial price of $100 per tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent.

China’s delegate said the last-minute intervention was sought so that the reaffirmed commitment mentioned other things to be incorporated into the revised climate change strategy, not just reduction targets.

“It is inappropriate to merely point out levels of ambition,” the delegate argued.

Canada, the UK and Germany objected to deleting a reference to strengthened levels of ambition. Delegates from Argentina and Brazil supported China, threatening to reopen discussion.

A compromise was found that talked about “all elements” of a revised strategy, not just strengthened ambitions, to end the discussion.

But the interjections show the enormity of the task regulators face in the next seven months if they are to reach any meaningful goals. There are two more intersessional working groups before July, at which absent but crucial numbers must be affixed in draft text targets.

“Discussions surrounding IMO’s GHG Strategy show promise,” said World Shipping Council president and chief executive John Butler.

“There is a growing base of support in the committee to proceed with development of a greenhouse gas levy as well as development of a greenhouse gas fuel standard.

“Significant differences remain to be resolved on the use of tank-to-wake and well-to-wake greenhouse gas factors and the use of funds, but there is a growing sense of agreement on the principal mechanisms that are critical to addressing the GHG challenge at the global level.”

Climate change groups said 30 countries now wanted zero emissions by 2050, and a further four supported net zero.

Ten countries have opposed increasing levels of ambition, including Argentina, China, Russia, India, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Türkiye, South Africa and Brazil.

“The IMO is slow but without a doubt making progress on climate,” said Lucy Gilliam from environmental group Seas at Risk.

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