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The Shipping Sector Needs Stronger Environmental Regulations, Report Warns Ahead of London Meeting to Discuss Tougher Rules

CRISIS - Atmospheric CO2 Levels CRISIS - Pollution Crises by Martina Igini Global Commons Jul 4th 20233 mins
The Shipping Sector Needs Stronger Environmental Regulations, Report Warns Ahead of London Meeting to Discuss Tougher Rules

Despite being a huge contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, shipping is one of the last remaining sectors without stringent climate targets or regulations.

The environmental burden placed upon the world’s oceans by global shipping and trade has grown exponentially in recent years and governments have so far failed to enforce stricter rules to halt the sector’s environmental damage, a new report has warned.
Commissioned by Seas At Risk, an association of European environmental organisations, ‘The State of Shipping & Oceans’ annual report investigates what has – and has not – been achieved in terms of maritime environmental regulations since the adoption of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) in 1973 in the wake of the devastating Torrey Canyon oil tanker spill.

Dubbed the single most important piece of international law to tackle the environmental impact of international shipping, the treaty has sparked major progress in reducing the number of oil tanker disasters in recent decades. Nevertheless, the report suggests that governments and international bodies have so far failed to limit the true impacts of shipping, including its detrimental effect on the world’s climate and oceans.

“Ships continue to inflict serious damage on our planet, from rising climate and air pollution to dangerous oil and chemical spills, plastic pollution, deadly collisions with wildlife, underwater noise pollution, and the transfer of invasive species,” said Lucy Gilliam, Senior Shipping Policy Officer at Seas At Risk.

The report comes as world leaders gather in London for the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) to discuss stricter environmental rules for the sector. Indeed, while almost every other sector in the world has come up with a plan to reach net zero emissions following the adoption of the Paris Agreement – including aviation – shipping is the only sector without such regulations. According to the report, the IMO’s only global emission reduction target to halve emissions by 2050 are seen by many as “unambitious and inadequate”.

Shipping carries more than 80% of the world trade and is responsible for nearly 3% of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. In the Arctic, which has been warming four times faster than the rest of the world, the industry is seeing melting ice as an opportunity to expand shipping routes, endangering the already delicate environment and livelihoods of Indigenous communities. The sector is also the leading cause of death for marine mammals and it is associated with the transfer of invasive aquatic species around the world and the destruction of marine ecosystems.

You might also like: Sustainable Shipping Companies: Are the World’s Top Brands Keeping their Green Promises?

The meeting is expected to end with a final decision on new targets. An initial draft of the final agreement includes a target to reach net zero emissions in the international shipping sector by, or around, 2050 but fails to set interim targets, Bloomberg reported.

Experts behind the report argue that intermediate goals such as an emission reduction of 50% by 2030 and full decarbonisation by 2040 are the only way shipping can realistically and meaningfully contribute to keeping within the Paris Agreement limit of 1.5C. They also predict that each year of delay will add an extra $100 billion to the total cost of decarbonising the industry.
They further argue that decarbonisation is only possible through a combination of policies and measures such as economic incentives, improved technical regulation, operational measures, better monitoring of plastic waste disposal, as well as a shift to zero-emission fuels.

“What should have been a celebration of 50 years of progress on ocean and climate protection has turned out to be a show of how the global community and IMO have failed to deliver on their promises,” said John Maggs, Shipping Policy Director at Seas At Risk.

You might also like: EU Strikes Deal to Add Shipping to Its Carbon Market In A Bid to Speed Up Decarbonisation

Tagged: Shipping

About the Author

Martina Igini

Martina is the Managing Editor at Earth.Org. She holds two BA degrees, in Translation/Interpreting Studies and Journalism, and a MA in International Development from the University of Vienna. After working at the United Nations Global Communication Department in Vienna, she joined a newspaper in Italy as a reporter before moving to Hong Kong in 2020. Her interests include sustainability and the role of public policy in environmental protection with a focus on developing countries.

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