US calls for shipping to have zero emissions by 2050

Shipping has been waiting, expecting environmental legislation to tighten up. The industry was served its marching orders yesterday with John Kerry, Joe Biden’s climate envoy, calling for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to guide the industry towards zero emissions by 2050, a complete volte-face from the attitude of the previous administration in Washington towards shipping and international legislation.

Speaking at a conference hosted by the Ocean Conservancy ahead of Biden hosting an international climate summit this week, Kerry said: “I want to announce that in support of the global effort to keep us in reach of 1.5 degrees Celsius and in support of global efforts to achieve net zero by no later than 2050, the United States is committing to work with countries in the International Maritime Organization to adopt the goal of achieving zero emissions from international shipping by 2050.”

Current IMO goals calls for emission cuts of at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels. These targets are up for revision at the UN body in two years’ time.

Kerry told the conference that the US will help deploy the technologies needed to rapidly reduce the sector’s emissions, which he said are “known to us” and will require investment to scale up.

Shipping reacted to the news yesterday by issuing further calls for the acceleration of market-based measures to speed up the adoption of new fuels.

The US commitment to absolute zero, not net zero, can be a political game changer for the shipping industry

Commenting on the Kerry announcment, Madeline Rose, climate campaign director at San Francisco-based NGO Pacific Environment, said: “The United States has committed to a historic goal of pursuing an absolute zero-emission shipping industry by 2050. The US commitment to absolute zero, not net zero, can be a political game changer for the shipping industry.”

Japanese transport ministry official Saito Hideaki, who chairs the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC), which meets in June, indicated via Japanese media that the IMO will work to establish higher targets and effective rules.

Watch Kerry’s announcement in the video below.

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. We are getting into an impossible situation for shipping Capital to decide on how to invest. So if one decides to ‘go with green’ and spend 5 million dollars more on one’s newbuild ship than required today, then in four years there is another u-turn in USA politics and/or major lobby blocks in IMO, and suddenly you can’t price yourself into the competition with their cheap un-green ships. The IMO corridors are filled with techs and devoid of commercial people, taking orders from the Special Advisors in the corridors of politics of their home nations – it is an, er, unprecedented time in the mismanagement of shipping leadtimes by the regulatory bodies.

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