December 8, 2021
Progress made at COP26 failed to translate into action at the IMO’s latest environmental meeting. Just days after touting ambitious emissions goals at the global climate conference in Glasgow, maritime leaders met at MEPC77 with what appeared to be a drastic change of heart. Member states shelved plans to reach zero-emissions from shipping in 2050 despite growing pressure to improve their current strategy. That strategy only halves emissions by mid-century and isn’t up for review until 2023.
Further disappointment ensued after a proposal for an International Maritime Research Board was also put on hold. Backed by the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), the board would have established a US$ 5 billion fund for decarbonization efforts. However, delegates waivered on the idea of a US$ 2/mt ton bunker levy needed to generate those funds. Critics argued that a tax on carbon would provide a better incentive to ship owners to cut emissions and would raise more money. They also worried that moving forward with a bunker levy would slow the implementation of a carbon tax in the future.
In the end, MEPC77 was all talk and no action. Member states won’t reconvene to rehash these debates until next spring. Many, meanwhile, expressed frustration with the lack of progress. The IMO faced harsh criticism for its failure to develop a more ambitious and tangible action plan. The ICS Secretary General, Guy Platten, called the meeting a “missed opportunity” and warned that “governments can’t keep kicking the can down the road.” The World Shipping Council voiced similar concerns, stating that governments once again failed “to walk the talk when it comes to real action.” Faig Abbasov, shipping program director at NGO Transport & Environment, called the IMO “woefully inadequate” and cautioned it may never change.
Amidst the fallout, several have suggested moving forward without an IMO-backed resolution. The need for change is clearly urgent yet the IMO has consistently failed to act quickly. It may be that the IMO is not capable of coming to a consensus. The interests between member states vary quite drastically. Some still have questions about the validity of climate change. Reaching an agreement under these conditions may prove impossible. That said, notable progress can still occur at a regional or even local level. We urge those that were disappointed with the MEPC77 proceedings to keep moving forward. Set more ambitious targets for decarbonization. Establish funds to spur technological advancements in zero-emission fuels. Collaborate with governments and organizations with similar ideals and goals. We have to move past just talking about potential decarbonization strategies at conferences and meetings. Action is long overdue.