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The IMO's tightened climate targets are criticized

07 August 2023

In July, the international maritime organization IMO adopted a new greenhouse gas strategy with the goal of reaching net-zero emissions "around" 2050. The decision means a tightening of the previous goal of halving emissions by 2050, but is criticized for not being binding.

After tough negotiations, the Environment Committee of the UN Maritime Organization, IMO, agreed on a new greenhouse gas strategy and a new target for the reduction of greenhouse gases from the international shipping industry. The strategy contains a goal to reach net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases "around" 2050 with intermediate goals that the total greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping must be reduced by at least 20 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2040, compared to 2008. The decision involves a tightening of the previous goal of halving emissions by 2050.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim (who will be replaced by Arsenio Antonio Dominguez Velasco of Panama on January 1, 2024) describes the agreement as "a starting point for work that needs to be further intensified in the years and decades ahead".

The decision is welcomed from many quarters, including by the association Swedish Shipping which "looks forward to contributing to developing and implementing the reduction measures required to reach the goal". But the agreement has also been criticized, including by environmental organizations that had wanted to see a tighter connection to the Paris Agreement's 1.5 degree goal.

- There is a clear difference between the IMO's goals and those laid down in the Paris Agreement's important 1.5 percent goal. A discrepancy we cannot afford," commented Harjeet Singh of Climate Action Network International, for example.

Several of the IMO's member countries around the Pacific Ocean, with the support of Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom, among others, had also demanded more ambitious targets. Just as before, the new agreement is also not binding and it only needs to be followed if "national circumstances allow it".

"The IMO had the opportunity to set an unambiguous and clear course towards the 1.5ºC temperature goal, but all it came up with is a wishy-washy compromise. Fortunately, states like the US, UK and the EU don’t have to wait for China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia to act," said Faig Abbasov, the shipping program director at T&E.

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