Shipping associations are declaring victory following a deadlocked MEPC 80 outcome liable to shock few.

The 2030 target – watered down by China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Argentina to the point where it is being referred to instead as an “indicative checkpoint” – falls well short of the nearly 40% NGOs say is required to meet the Paris 1.5°C target of just 20%.

Nevertheless it was branded as “particularly ambitious,” by ICS deputy secretary general Simon Bennett, who added that it was a “very strong signal to ship operators and, most importantly, to energy producers… that the maritime sector is serious about achieving net zero and addressing dangerous climate change in line with the Paris Agreement”.

In response, the EU, Canada and the US are likely to redouble their efforts to sidestep IMO and impose their own legislation – already in evidence with California port requirements to use shore power, shipping being included in the EU emissions trading scheme and the north Europe 0.1% sulphur cap.

Faig Abbasov, shipping programme director at Transport & Environment, called the MEPC result “…a wishy-washy compromise” and added: “Fortunately, states like the US, UK and the EU don’t have to wait for China, Brazil and Saudi Arabia to act.”

But if MEPC was deemed a failure, its delegates didn’t get the memo.

“Here we are. We made it,” declared HE Albon Ishoda, presidential special envoy for the Maritime Energy Transition.

Some of the most fervent politicking came from island nations, many of which could be under water if more is not done to avert polar ice melt – and the Marshall Islands is also home to one of the largest ship registries.

Its envoy said: “There is much work still to do to ensure that 1.5°C remains not just within reach, but is achieved. But I am proud today of the work we have done, and that we have done it together.”

And Ocean Rebellion, which demonstrated at the IMO HQ this week, spokesman University of Southampton professor Chris Armstrong said: “By dodging obvious reforms like slow sailing, wind and less international commerce, the IMO condemns the Paris Climate Agreement to death by a thousand meetings. We must cut shipping emissions now. Commitments to Net Zero by 2050 cannot be used as a corporate ruse to avoid taking urgent action.”

However, the IMO has for the first time set out an agenda for decarbonisation “by or around 2050… taking into account different national circumstances,” which, watered down or not, represents a much higher degree of ambition than its previous commitment, to a 50% reduction in emissions, by 2050, over 2008 levels.

John Butler, World Shipping Council president & CEO, said: “Liner shipping is already investing in renewable fuel-ready ships, and today’s decision broadcasts a strong global signal for investment to the entire maritime sector.

“We are counting on the IMO member nations to press on with the important work of developing and adopting a robust regulatory framework that will make these fuels available and competitive. The next two years will be critical – for 2050 targets to be achievable IMO member nations must develop and agree on a lifecycle-based global fuel standard and economic measure by 2025, so they can be implemented by 2027.”

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