‘COPtimists, meet the MEP-wait-and-C’

In the space of a month the limitations of the United Nations (UN) to lead climate policy changes have been put in sharp relief.

The UN had hosted COP26, a global annual climate summit at the start of November, from where a host of initiatives were launched to drive shipping towards a greener future with many countries including the US, Denmark and the UK demanding the sector set zero emissions targets. However, talks that then followed at UN agency, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), last week turned into a stalemate with very little achieved and sessions running overtime repeatedly at the 77th gathering of the Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC).

Last month UN secretary-general António Guterres had taken aim at shipping and aviation for their slowness down the path towards decarbonisation, words that ultimately fell on deaf ears to may IMO member states last week who obstinately blocked measures to tighten shipping green targets as well as shot down discussions on some form of a carbon levy.

It’s almost as if COP 26 never happened

At the end of MEPC, member states agreed to relook at emissions targets in 2023.

“It’s almost as if COP 26 never happened,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping, frustrated in particular in the failure by IMO member states to adopt a $5bn decarbonisation R&D fund his organisation has been lobbying for over the past couple of years. “Governments can’t keep kicking the can down the road; every delay moves us further away from reaching pressing climate goals,” Platten added.

Soren Skou, the head of Denmark’s largest shipping company, Maersk, also voiced his disappointment that the momentum from COP26 was not carried over to MEPC.

“We need IMO to deliver to stand a chance to decarbonize shipping and we need progress now. It is time for ambitious states to be more forceful and direct,” Skou stated in a post on LinkedIn.

Inaction at IMO once again leaves the UN body open to other regional regulators taking green shipping matters into their own hands, with the European Union likely to be first up, bringing shipping into its emissions trading scheme.

Summing up the month in green shipping regulation neatly, Gavin Lipsith, head of content at Wake Media, quipped on LinkedIn: “COPtimists, meet the MEP-wait-and-C.”

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.


  1. And? Why is anyone even surprised ? The IMO is inept and clearly not set up for change, for ground breaking or leadership. Standby shipping for countries and regions to implement their own rules and requirements…. China will keep spewing out coal power while everyone desperately trades with them. US will do whatever it wants as it steams along rudderless at the top, and the EU will create and demand a green world…. If they can make it stick. The IMO, well the useless body will continue to pontificate while the Maldives and Marshall Islands sink below the waves of the ineptitude

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