In a cautious yet upbeat message at the close of the Climate Action Summit in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres praised the progress made by shipping in the race against the climate crisis, describing it as a "huge step up".
He referred to efforts being made by key players in the maritime industry to chart a course for carbon neutrality by 2050 in order to implement International Maritime Organization (IMO)'s initial greenhouse gas reduction strategy. The strategy, adopted in 2018, is driving activities to reduce emissions throughout the sector.
The initial IMO strategy envisages a reduction of CO2 emissions per unit of transport work, the so-called carbon intensity, as an average across international shipping, of at least 40% by 2030 – at the same time, pursuing efforts towards a 70% reduction by 2050, compared to 2008.
It also envisages a reduction of total annual GHG emissions of at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008, aiming to phase them out as soon as possible. These levels of ambition, meaning actually more than 80% reduction of GHG missions per ship for ships currently at sea, are consistent with the Paris Agreement temperature goals.
The IMO initial strategy is expected to drive a new propulsion revolution for ships and has sent a clear signal to innovators and financiers that this is the way forward.
There are already strong signs emerging that sectors of the industry are really embracing this. Battery powered and hybrid ferries, ships trialing biofuels or hydrogen fuel cells, wind-assisted propulsion and several other ideas are now being actively explored.