The shipping industry is under increasing pressure to drastically reduce emissions from smokestacks that contribute to global warming.
Maritime transport emits as much CO2 annually as Germany, but it is the largest global sector without a "net zero" emission reduction target. Some delegates at the United Nations summit beginning on Monday desire this by 2050 and a halving of emissions by 2030.
According to activists, it would be the most significant climate agreement of the decade. Reaching "net zero" would involve actively removing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere to offset any remaining shipping emissions.
The shipping industry, governments, and environmental organizations have argued for years over how to make seaborne transport of goods more environmentally friendly. It was determined that the issue was too complex to be included in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to combat global warming.
About 90 percent of the world's consumed products and commodities are transported by ship. These vessels frequently burn extremely polluting fuels that contribute up to 3 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, roughly the same as Germany or 243 coal plants.
Experts have warned that this could increase by as much as 50 percent by the middle of this century if firmer action is not taken. The maritime industry's current plans only call for a halving of emissions by the middle of the 21st century, according to scientists, which is in stark contrast to the Paris climate accord.
This week, under the supervision of the United Nations' International Maritime Organisation (IMO), delegates from 175 maritime nations will convene in London to discuss a new timeline for decarbonising their industry entirely. Campaigners want a much more stringent target, with a reduction of roughly half by 2030 and a new net-zero target for 2050. Others would like to see a complete decarbonization carried forward to 2040.
Kerrlene Wills, director of the UN Climate Foundation's Ocean and Climate Program, stated that if member states get this right, they will be able to align the shipping sector with the Paris temperature targets and encourage investment in green technologies, which will completely transform the sector.
Numerous nations are in favor, and a number of shipping corporations want to move forward with plans for cleaner transportation. Maersk, the second-largest container shipping company in the world, has set its own objective of zero emissions by the year 2040.
Attempts in the past to strengthen climate ambitions at the IMO have been thwarted by a number of countries, including China, India, and Saudi Arabia, which are eager to safeguard their domestic shipping interests. Observers believe that if the London meeting can agree on these new objectives for all shipping, it will be the most significant step forward against climate change since the Paris accord.
John Maggs, a campaigner with the Clean Shipping Coalition, told sources that there would be a climate agreement not just for the year, but presumably for the decade. Within the industry as a whole, it is acknowledged that reform is necessary, but there is concern that new targets will be too difficult and costly.
The Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), Kitack Lim, implored delegates last week to "make the compromises and find solutions," describing 2023 as "the year of decisive climate action."