The United Nations’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released yesterday its Working Group III report on the mitigation of climate change, a publication that might make for difficult reading at the London headquarters of another UN branch, namely the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
In the report, hundreds of climate scientists and economists suggest that a better climate governance for shipping and aviation could speed up the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
In its advice to policymakers, the report’s authors write: “Improvements to national and international governance structures would further enable the decarbonisation of shipping and aviation. Such improvements could include, for example, the implementation of stricter efficiency and carbon intensity standards for the sectors.”
Currently most countries believe that shipping can only be regulated at global level through the IMO, and do not account for the sector in their climate laws, or their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement.
The IMO’s current climate plan has been repeatedly attacked by NGOs as insufficient to meet the Paris Agreement temperature goals of limiting global warming to 1.5°C. The IMO aims to only halve emissions by 2050 compared to a 2008 baseline. Tired of waiting for the IMO to act, the European Union is pressing ahead with its own plans to cut shipping emissions, with the industry set to become part of the bloc’s emissions trading scheme soon. Other countries including the US, the UK and China are looking at how the European shipping experiment goes before possibly enacting similar measures.
Improvements to national and international governance structures would further enable the decarbonisation of shipping
The IPCC Working Group III report was finalised and approved by 278 authors and 195 governments. It is the most comprehensive review of how the world can mitigate climate change since the fifth assessment report in 2014.
The report examines current trends of emissions, projected levels of future warming, and how to transition to a low carbon economy in order to limit global warming in line with Paris targets.
On shipping and aviation, the report adds: “While efficiency improvements (e.g., optimised aircraft and vessel designs, mass reduction, and propulsion system improvements) can provide some mitigation potential, additional CO2 emissions mitigation technologies for aviation and shipping will be required.”
Alternative fuels for shipping identified by the IPCC include low-emission hydrogen, ammonia, biofuels, and other synthetic fuels. Electrification could play a niche role for shortsea shipping, the IPCC suggested.