The shipping industry is under pressure to dramatically curb the planet’s warming from emissions.
Shipping emits as much CO2 a year as Germany, but is the world’s largest sector without the goal of cutting emissions to “net zero”.
Some delegates at the UN summit starting Monday want to halve these emissions by 2050 and 2030.
Campaigners say it will be a climate “deal of the decade” if agreed.
Achieving “net zero” means that any remaining ship emissions are related to removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
For years, the shipping industry, governments and environmental groups have debated whether to green cargo at sea.
The issue was considered too difficult to be included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to curb global warming.
It is important because 90% of the world’s products and goods are transported by ship.
These ships often burn highly polluting fuels that account for 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of Germany or 243 coal plants.
Experts warn it could rise to 50% by the middle of this century if no drastic measures are taken.
The shipping industry’s current plan is only to cut emissions in half by the middle of this century, a commitment scientists say is inconsistent with the Paris climate accord.
This week, delegates from 175 shipping nations, under the auspices of the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO), will meet in London to try and agree on a new timeline for fully decarbonizing their industries.
Campaigners want to see a much tougher target, halving emissions by 2030 and a new net zero target for 2050. Others still want to go further and reach full decarbonisation by 2040.
“If member states get this right, they can meet the Paris warming targets and invest in green technologies,” said Kerlin Wills, director of oceans and climate at the United Nations Climate Foundation.
Many countries are supportive – and some shipping companies want to push forward with clean transport plans. Maersk, the world’s second-largest container shipping line, is taking an aggressive approach with a goal of achieving zero emissions by 2040.
Previous attempts at the IMO to strengthen climate demand have failed with several countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia seeking to protect their own domestic shipping needs.
If the London summit can agree these new targets for all emissions, observers say it will be the biggest step forward on climate change since the Paris accord.
John Maggs, a member of the Clean Shipping Coalition, a campaigner, told reporters: “Of course you’ll have a ten-year climate deal, not just one year.
Across the wider industry, there is recognition that improvement is necessary but concerns that new targets will be too challenging and expensive.
even if Recent research It shows that reducing shipping emissions over this decade would add only 10% to total operating costs.
Last week, IMO Secretary-General Kitak Lim called 2023 a “decisive year for climate action” and urged delegates to “take shortcuts and find solutions.”
His comments were echoed by Feig Abbasov from Campaigns for Transport and the Environment:
“Waiting until 2050 to decarbonize is a bit like waiting for your house to burn down before calling the fire brigade… All it takes is political will, IMO to either get up or send it!”