Cargo Ship leaving Conakry Port © Pierre Gleizes / Greenpeace

Container cargo ship named the ‘Cecilie Maersk’ or ‘Maersk Sealand’ is leaving Conakry port. © Pierre Gleizes / Greenpeace

After years of inaction, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the UN body responsible for global shipping regulations, will meet in London on April 9 – 13 to finally agree on a plan to tackle the carbon emissions from ships.

While there are many things we can do to lower our own emissions – from cycling to saying no to single-use plastic or eating less meat – some things are further out of our hands, such as shipping. But together we can give the IMO a massive wake-up call for the sake of the planet.

Cutting emissions from shipping would play a key role in meeting the Paris Climate Agreement’s goals and here are five reasons why we need to put the spotlight on the IMO.

  1. Shipping is a major contributor to climate change

Ships carry over 80% of world trade, using vessels that operate on marine fuels which are cheaper but dirtier than road transport diesel fuels.

If the shipping sector were a country, it would rank sixth in the list of carbon emitters, just above Germany. The sector’s emissions have been growing three times faster than global emissions and if left unchecked emissions could grow by 50-250% by 2050.

  1. Aggressive lobbying and lack of public scrutiny has led to lack of action

The IMO is heavily influenced by the shipping industry, which has prevented the adoption of ambitious climate rules for the sector. The lack of public scrutiny on the IMO – unlike other UN organisations – has helped the industry avoid emissions regulations.

The IMO’s transparency has been reviewed by anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, which found that weak IMO governance is delaying action on climate change.

  1. The IMO’s April meeting can be the first step towards greener seas

At its meeting in London, we must ensure the IMO agrees on a high ambition plan to reduce shipping’s climate impact before a final deal is agreed in 2023. Greenpeace is working with a coalition of NGOs to increase the sector’s climate ambition. We urge the shipping industry to phase out emissions by 2050 at the latest and the faster the better.

  1. No time to waste for low ambition

IMO membership is split between countries wanting to take climate action (such as the climate vulnerable Pacific island states and most of the EU states), those who want to lower ambition, like Japan, and those who are resisting any action, such as Brazil, India, Saudi Arabia and Argentina.

But climate impacts respect no boundaries and we’re already experiencing more extreme floods, droughts, hurricanes and heatwaves and the IMO needs to hear from you about the urgency of action!

Activists in London demonstrated on Tuesday in support of an ambitious climate agreement, painting a washable sign along the banks of the Thames River that said ‘IMO Don’t Sink Paris’. © IMO Climate

Activists in London demonstrated on Tuesday in support of an ambitious climate agreement, painting a washable sign along the banks of the Thames River that said ‘IMO Don’t Sink Paris’. © IMO Climate | Source: Greenpeace

  1. The solutions are available. We need industry-wide adoption  

If ships are required to operate at lower speeds this could reduce emissions by a third and save fuel. Using carbon-free fuels and propulsion technologies, like wind-assisted propulsion, or battery-powered engines can also cut emissions and significantly reduce costs.

Greenpeace is already doing its small bit. Our flagship the Rainbow Warrior is propelled by a two-mast structure with 1,255 m2 of sailing rig, large enough for a work vessel that also has a helideck. We invested in the latest clean technology TIER 2 engines when it was built in 2010.

Imagine if, instead of using the cheapest and dirtiest fuel (so-called Heavy Fuel Oil) that poses serious health risks and could cause catastrophic damage in the Arctic, a worldwide ban was introduced on its use and transport through the Arctic, and the best in clean technology deployed across the entire shipping industry.

What can you do to help?

You can add your voice to those calling for a cleaner shipping industry by sharing the Cleaner Ships for a Safer World Facebook page here.

*Veronica Frank is a political advisor with Greenpeace International

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