The language of decarbonisation has been changing, and increasingly emphasises the need to act to avoid temperatures rising more than ‘1.5 [degrees]’ above pre-industrial temperatures, the temperature goal included in the Paris Agreement. What does avoiding temperatures rising more than ‘1.5’ really mean in the context of shipping? And what tools can be used to manage this situation? A new insight brief, titled ‘Aligning with 1.5 degrees’ by UMAS for the Getting to Zero Coalition, a partnership between the Global Maritime Forum and the World Economic Forum, attempts to answer these questions.

Shipping’s value chain can expect continued pressure on targets and commitments until it clearly aligns with an IPCC-derived definition of the steps needed to avoid temperatures rising above 1.5C. This pressure will come both from the policy processes at the IMO and from the landscape of voluntary initiatives and commitments that intensify scrutiny and expectations of transparency. At a sector level, 1.5-alignment means taking even greater steps than many had already factored in as sufficient – much of shipping’s transition away from fossil fuel use will need to have been achieved by the end of the 2030’s. Managing the risks and opportunities that this creates starts with understanding where pressure on targets comes from and what is driving these latest developments in their specification.

Dr Tristan Smith, Associate professor at UCL Energy Institute and Director of UMAS said; “The challenge for the shipping sector is not to get deceived into thinking any IMO agreed ambition is permanent or definitive, but to plan for it to increase ambition over time. As long as there is compromise or misalignment with IPCC advice to policymakers, there will be a ratcheting-up of ambition. Taking guidance from the ‘floor’ of the debate (e.g. current IMO minimum targets) is a gamble, as long as the ‘ceiling’ of the debate is set by IPCC.”

As the debate continues at the IMO on the revision of its Initial GHG Strategy and the level of ambition, the Insight Brief argues that investment decisions that are based on a process built upon consensus-building and ratcheting-up (raising over time) of ambition, is fundamentally flawed for a sector with long-life assets, which need to be designed and built for decades of operation.

Johannah Christensen, CEO of GMF said; “Shipping needs to consider what aligning with a 1.5 degree pathway entails. Initiatives like the Poseidon Principles have already indicated that they will move in this direction, and shipping’s whole value chain needs to understand the opportunities and risks – including the risks of inaction – that are likely to present themselves.”

The Insight Brief discusses how the newly released Science Based Targets for the Maritime Transport Sector presents approaches that both operators and customers of shipping can use to ensure alignment with 1.5 degrees and shows how misaligned the minimum IMO levels of ambition are. The SBTi tools provide corporations with an approach that can enable and clearly communicate their adoption of a strategy unambiguously aligned with the science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The SBTi is one of the few independent third parties endorsed by the High Level Expert Group on the Net Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities.