The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted a revised strategy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping. The goal is ‘to reach net-zero GHG emissions from international shipping by or around 2050.’

Member states unanimously adopted the 2023 IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships, with enhanced targets to tackle harmful emissions, at IMO‘s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80), which took place last week.

In addition to getting to net-zero GHG emissions, the agreement includes a commitment to ensure an uptake of alternative zero and near-zero GHG fuels by 2030, as well as indicative check-points for 2030 and 2040.

‘The adoption of the 2023 IMO Greenhouse Gas Strategy is a monumental development for IMO and opens a new chapter towards maritime decarbonisation,’ says IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim. ‘At the same time, it is not the end goal, it is in many ways a starting point for the work that needs to intensify even more over the years and decades ahead of us. However, with the Revised Strategy that you have now agreed on, we have a clear direction, a common vision, and ambitious targets to guide us to deliver what the world expects from us.’

Simon Bennett, International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) Deputy Secretary General, adds: ‘ICS greatly welcomes the ambitious agreement reached by governments at IMO today for shipping to achieve net zero emissions “by or around 2050”, in line with the Paris Agreement and the commitment made by the shipping industry at COP 26 in Glasgow back in 2021. This historic IMO agreement gives a very strong signal to ship operators and, most importantly, to energy producers who must now urgently supply zero GHG marine fuels in very large quantities if such a rapid transition is to be possible.’

The Royal Association of Netherlands Shipowners (KVNR) is positive about the net zero target. ‘A sharper wording of the deadline would have been desirable, although it is understandable that where necessary some more flexibility should be offered to meet the net zero target,’ says KVNR climate specialist Nick Lurkin. ‘Indeed, the most important thing was to agree on a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target as soon as possible. This has now been achieved. This is the first sector-specific climate agreement worldwide and therefore marks a historic moment.’

Also read: What the 2024 ETS price tag could look like for shipping

Levels of ambition

Levels of ambition directing the 2023 IMO GHG Strategy are as follows:  

  1. Carbon intensity of the ship to decline through further improvement of the energy efficiency for new ships: to review with the aim of strengthening the energy efficiency design requirements for ships;
  2. Carbon intensity of international shipping to decline: to reduce CO2 emissions per transport work, as an average across international shipping, by at least forty per cent by 2030, compared to 2008;
  3. Uptake of zero or near-zero GHG emission technologies, fuels and/or energy sources to increase: uptake of zero or near-zero GHG emission technologies, fuels and/or energy sources to represent at least five per cent, striving for ten per cent, of the energy used by international shipping by 2030; and
  4. GHG emissions from international shipping to reach net zero: to peak GHG emissions from international shipping as soon as possible and to reach net-zero GHG emissions by or around, i.e. close to 2050, taking into account different national circumstances, whilst pursuing efforts towards phasing them out, consistent with the long-term temperature goal set out in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement.


Indicative checkpoints to reach net-zero GHG emissions from international shipping:

  1. To reduce the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least twenty per cent, striving for thirty per cent, by 2030, compared to 2008; and
  2. To reduce the total annual GHG emissions from international shipping by at least seventy per cent, striving for eighty per cent, by 2040, compared to 2008.

‘The checkpoints agreed for 2030 and 2040 are particularly ambitious,’ states Bennett. ‘The industry will do everything possible to achieve these goals including the seventy to eighty per cent absolute reduction of GHG emissions now demanded of the entire global shipping sector by 2040. But this can only be achieved if IMO rapidly agrees to a global levy on ships’ GHG emissions to support a “fund and reward” mechanism, as proposed by the industry. We urgently need to reduce the cost gap between conventional and alternative marine fuels and incentivise the production and uptake of new fuels at the scale now required to meet this accelerated transition. 2040 is less than seventeen years away and the availability of zero GHG marine fuels today is virtually zero.’

Also read: ICS wants ‘Fund and Reward’ system to get to 2050 net zero

Candidate mid-term GHG reduction measures

The 2023 GHG Strategy states that a basket of candidate measure(s), delivering on the reduction targets, should be developed and finalised comprised of both:

  • A technical element, namely a goal-based marine fuel standard regulating the phased reduction of the marine fuel’s GHG intensity; and
  • An economic element, on the basis of a maritime GHG emissions pricing mechanism.

The candidate economic elements will be assessed observing specific criteria to be considered in the comprehensive impact assessment, with a view to facilitating the finalisation of the basket of measures. The mid-term GHG reduction measures should effectively promote the energy transition of shipping and provide the world fleet a needed incentive while contributing to a level playing field and a just and equitable transition.

Bennett: ‘It is very positive that a majority of governments now support a levy for shipping involving flat rate contributions by ships per tonne of GHG emitted to an IMO fund to expedite a rapid transition. The ICS “fund and reward” proposal remains firmly on the table as a deliverable solution and will now be subject to a comprehensive impact assessment by UNCTAD to be completed by early next year, so that an economic measure can be adopted in 2025. This will be vital it we are to reach a take-off point by 2030 for the use of new fuels to achieve the extremally ambitious goal which IMO has now set for 2040.’

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Impacts on states

The strategy says that the impacts on states of a measure/combination of measures should be assessed and taken into account as appropriate before adoption of the measure in accordance with the revised procedure for assessing impacts on states of candidate measures. Particular attention should be paid to the needs of developing countries.

In the Strategy, the Committee recognises that developing countries, have special needs with regard to capacity-building and technical cooperation.

Next steps

The 2023 Strategy sets out a timeline towards adoption of the basket of measures and adoption of the updated 2028 IMO GHG Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships:

  • MEPC 81 (Spring 2024) – Interim report on Comprehensive impact assessment of the basket of candidate mid-term measures/Finalisation of basket of measures
  • MEPC 82 (Autumn 2024) – Finalised report on Comprehensive impact assessment of the basket of candidate mid-term measures
  • MEPC 83 (Spring 2025) – Review of the short-term measure to be completed by 1 January 2026
  • MEPC 84 (Spring 2026) – Approval of measures/Review of the short-term measure (EEXI and CII) to be completed by 1 January 2026
  • Extraordinary one or two-day MEPC (six months after MEPC 83 in Autumn 2025) – Adoption of measures

Picture by Louis Vest, Flickr.