GHG emissions: briefing from IMO

The latest session of the International Maritime Organisation on greenhouse gas emissions took place in October 2017. This set out the outline of a strategy on reducing GHGs from ships and presented a number of options. The paper will be discussed further at the next round of IMO talks in April 2018. The key points are highlighted below:

Levels of ambition

The IMO member states prefer not to talk about “targets”, but rather “levels of ambition”. There are various options in the document. Some are more technical approach, with the level of ambition based on the GHG reduction shipping would need to make to contribute to the global temperature target agreed in Paris at COP21. Some, such as a 50% reduction by 2060, are more political than evidence based. Shippers should be pleased to see a suggestion that the level of ambition should be based on emissions per tonne/km, as using this metric would incentivise greater fuel efficiency and not necessarily set an overall cap that would limit trade. However, shippers had previously raised strong concerns on the methodology for data collection of emissions per tonne/km, therefore it is not clear that this metric would provide an accurate measure of progress.

Impact on states

An important part of the agreement is a clear commitment to take the “impact on states” into account when reviewing each policy measure. In IMO terminology this refers to the wider economic and societal impact of the proposed measures to reduce GHGs, particularly with developing countries in mind. This is a concept shippers have strongly supported, and have co-sponsored papers to IMO on this point (through ICHCA). This should ensure that the broader supply chain impacts of policy measures are reviewed, and a more balanced view is taken by member states.

 Policy Measures

The agreement at IMO lists a large number of policy measures that different Member States have put on the table. These have been broken down into short, medium, and long term. The short- term measures look sensible, including for instance carrying out a review of the impact of existing policy mechanisms; and adding new ones such as exploring the role of ports, and the much more contentious suggestion of a global speed limit. Shippers will need to ensure they have a coordinated position on this as the debate matures. The medium-term list of measures includes a suggestion to discuss “Market Based Measures”, without specifically naming which ones should be discussed. This will be the most contentious part of the debate with strongly differing views between stakeholders. The long-term measures very brief, talking radical decarbonisation being necessary.


There is good progress being made, although the most difficult discussions remain to be had. Over the next 18 months member states of IMO will need to agree a level of ambition; decide which policy measures they can commit to now – likely to be short term – and which should be agreed at a later date (medium-long term). Shippers will need to agree detailed positions, but one key priority is to stress the need to firmly commit to the Impacts on States being reviewed for all policy measures. European Shippers Council input will be vitally important, and coordinated with other Shippers’ Councils worldwide through the Global Shippers’ Forum.