IMO Pushes on Emissions Targets for Shippers, But Some See Unrealistic Goals


In London this week, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been meeting to discuss progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions through pollution-reducing policies in ocean shipping and to set new goals for the future. While large economies like the U.S. are pushing for much tighter rules, other countries are skeptical.

Key countries, led by the United States, are pushing the IMO to adopt even stricter restrictions than previously set, as climate change accelerates and progress has been slow.

With the IMO’s well-known IMO 2020 rules, which went into effect January 1, 2020, the goal was to get to a 50 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, in the time since the rule went into effect, scientists have warned that that goal is far too small to achieve the necessary change to move the world’s climate in the right direction.

Now, the United States and its allies are urging much more drastic cuts. U.S. President Biden wants the IMO to commit to:

  • A 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030
  • A 96% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040
  • And, a 100% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050

This time, the U.S. government believes the pressure and factors are there for the IMO to agree to the goals.

However, some countries, such as India – a leading economic and trade power – are very skeptical.

For example, just this week, India suggested that the IMO agree to push a “more realistic” goal of requiring 5% of marine fuels used to be carbon-neutral by 2030. With such a small goal, that puts the country and others at odds with the U.S. and other world leaders.

Regulations are much different in countries like India and China, where economic growth has sometimes taken precedence over environmental rules. However, as climate change threatens the entire world, those countries and others have been forced to act, too.

The meeting is the latest push by the IMO to agree on greenhouse gas emission rules.

Over the past decade, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has been actively working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from container ships. The IMO introduced the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) in 2013, which sets mandatory energy efficiency standards for new ships. The EEDI requires newly built container ships to meet certain energy efficiency requirements, leading to the construction of more fuel-efficient vessels.

In 2018, the IMO followed up with the Initial IMO Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions, which was an initial strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 levels.

IMO 2020 was next, and the Covid pandemic threw a wrench in benchmark levels as shipping activity was drastically altered in the period between 2020 and 2022. With a change in the White House starting in early 2021, the U.S. has now taken a leading role in pushing to be more aggressive on climate change.