Historic Background

IMO and the UNFCCC policy framework

It fell to scientists to draw international attention to the threats posed by global warming.  Evidence in the 1960s and '70s that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere were increasing first led climatologists and others to press for action.  It took years before the international community responded.

In 1988, an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was created by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which issued a first assessment report in 1990 which reflected the views of 400 scientists.  The report stated that global warming was real and urged that something be done about it.

The Panel's findings spurred governments to create the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which was ready for signature at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development - more popularly known as the "Earth Summit" - in Rio de Janeiro.

The Kyoto Protocol adopted in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC, which major feature is binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  The detailed rules for the implementation of the Protocol were adopted at COP 7 in Marrakesh in 2001 and are called the "Marrakesh Accords".  The Kyoto Protocol entered into force on 16 February 2005.

The Kyoto Protocol contains provisions for reducing GHG emissions from international aviation and shipping and treats these sectors in a different way to other sources due to their global activities that is, pursuing though the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) respectively.  Emissions from domestic aviation and shipping are included in national targets for Annex I countries.  ICAO and IMO regularly report progress on their work to UNFCCC.

No reference to IMO (nor ICAO) is made in either the articles of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change (the Paris Agreement) or the decisions to implement the agreement, including on the pre-2020 ambition.

MEPC 69 (April 2016) welcomed the Paris Agreement and acknowledged the major achievement of the international community in concluding the agreement, recognized and commended the current efforts and those already implemented by IMO to enhance the energy efficiency of ships, widely recognized and agreed that further appropriate improvements related to shipping emissions can and should be pursued, and recognized the role of IMO in mitigating the impact of GHG emissions from international shipping.

As requested by Assembly resolution A.963(23), the IMO Secretariat continuously reports to UNFCCC SBSTA under the agenda item on "Emissions from fuel used for international aviation and maritime transport" and participates in related United Nations system activities.

IMO begins work on GHG emissions

In September 1997, an International Conference of Parties to the MARPOL Convention, which adopted the Protocol of 1997 to amend the MARPOL Convention (MARPOL Annex VI), also adopted resolution 8 on CO2 emissions from ships.  This resolution invited the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) to consider what CO2 reduction strategies might be feasible in light of the relationship between CO2 and other atmospheric and marine pollutants.  The resolution also invited IMO, in cooperation with the UNFCCC, to undertake a study of CO2 emissions from ships for the purpose of establishing the amount and relative percentage of CO2 emissions from ships as part of the global inventory of CO2 emissions.

In December 2003, the IMO Assembly adopted resolution A.963(23) on IMO Policies and practices related to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships, which urged MEPC to identify and develop the mechanism(s) needed to achieve the limitation or reduction of GHG emissions from international shipping.  In the ensuing years, MEPC has since been energetically pursuing measures to limit and reduce GHG emissions from international shipping.

IMO GHG studies

In 2000, the First IMO GHG Study on GHG emissions from ships was published, which estimated that ships engaged in international trade in 1996 contributed about 1.8 per cent of the world total anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

The Second IMO GHG Study, published in 2009, estimated international shipping emissions in 2007 to be 880 million tonnes, or about 2.7% of the global total anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

The Third IMO GHG Study, published in 2014, estimated international shipping emissions in 2012 to be 796 million tonnes, or about 2.2% of the global total anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The Study also updated the CO2 estimates for 2007 to 885 million tonnes, or 2.8%.

MEPC 74 initiated a Fourth IMO GHG Study, for consideration of the final report by MEPC 76 in autumn 2020. This additional study is expected to provide an update of GHG emissions estimates from international shipping from 2012 to 2018 and future scenarios for shipping emissions from 2018 to 2050.

Energy efficiency of international shipping

In July 2011, IMO adopted mandatory measures to improve the energy efficiency of international shipping through resolution MEPC.203(62), representing the first-ever mandatory global energy efficiency standard for an international industry sector, the first legally binding instrument to be adopted since the Kyoto Protocol that addresses GHG emissions and the first global mandatory GHG-reduction regime for an international industry sector.

The amendments adopted by resolution MEPC.203(62) added a new chapter 4 entitled "Regulations on energy efficiency for ships" to MARPOL Annex VI. This package of technical and operational requirements which apply to ships of 400 GT and above, are known as the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI), applicable to new ships, which sets a minimum energy efficiency level for the work undertaken (e.g. CO2emissions per tonne-mile) for different ship types and sizes, and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP), applicable to all ships. These mandatory requirements entered into force on 1 January 2013.

The EEDI has been developed for the largest and most energy-intensive segments of the world merchant fleet and, following the inclusion of additional ship types, will embrace approximately 85% of emissions from international shipping. EEDI reduction factors are set until 2025 to the extent that ships constructed in 2025 will be required to be at least 30% more energy efficient than those constructed in 2014. The SEEMP establishes a mechanism for operators to improve the energy efficiency of existing ships against business-as-usual operations, in a cost-effective manner and also provides an approach for monitoring ship and fleet efficiency performance over time.

A study undertaken following the adoption of the mandatory energy efficiency measures indicates that the uptake of SEEMP measures will have a significant effect in the short to medium term, while EEDI measures should have a greater impact in the longer term, as fleet renewal takes place and new technologies are adopted. Estimates suggest that a successful implementation of this energy efficiency framework by 2050 could reduce shipping CO2 emissions by up to 1.3 gigatonnes per year against the business-as-usual scenario.

MEPC 70 (October 2016) agreed on the need for a thorough review of EEDI Phase 3 (1 January 2025 and onwards) requirements, which provide that new ships be built to be 30% more energy efficient compared to the baseline. In this regard, MEPC 74 (May 2019) approved to bring forward the entry into effect of phase 3 from 2025 to 2022 for several ship types – including containerships, gas carriers, general cargo ships and LNG carriers – and to enhance significantly the reduction rate of phase 3 for containerships, e.g. setting it at 50% for containerships of 200,000 DWT and above, from 2022 (instead of 30% from 2025)

Adoption of a mandatory fuel oil consumption data collection system

MEPC 70 (October 2016) approved a Roadmap for developing a comprehensive IMO strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships, which includes a three-step approach consisting in: 1) collecting data on ships' fuel oil consumption, 2) analysing this data and 3) make decision on what further measures to enhance the energy efficiency shipping, if any, are required.

In this regard, MEPC 70 adopted mandatory MARPOL Annex VI requirements for ships to record and report their fuel oil consumption. Under the amendments, starting from 1 January 2019, ships of 5,000 GT and above (representing approximately 85% of the total CO2 emissions from international shipping) are required to collect consumption data for each type of fuel oil they use, as well as, additionally, other specified data, including proxies for "transport work". The aggregated data will be reported to the flag State after the end of each calendar year and the flag State, having determined that the data have been reported in accordance with the requirements, will issue a Statement of Compliance to the ship. Flag States will be required to subsequently transfer this data to an IMO Ship Fuel Oil Consumption Database. The Secretariat is required to produce an annual report to the MEPC, summarizing the data collected. The first IMO report analysing and summarizing the data collected in 2019 will be presented at MEPC 77, in spring 2021.

The Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships

MEPC 72 (April 2018) adopted resolution MEPC.304(72) on the Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships [link to the Strategy]. This important agreement represents the framework for further action of the Committee, setting out the future vision for international shipping. The Initial Strategy envisages for the first time a reduction in total GHG emissions from international shipping which, it says, should peak as soon as possible and to reduce the total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008, while, at the same time, pursuing efforts towards phasing them out entirely.

The Initial Strategy identifies:

-       possible candidate short-term measures, which could be agreed between 2018 and 2023, such as further improvement of the EEDI and the SEEMP, the development of operational indicators for both new and existing ships, the establishment of an Existing Fleet Improvement Programme, the use of speed optimization and speed reduction, the development and update of national action plans, the enhancement of technical cooperation activities managed by IMO, ports developments (e.g. onshore power supply from renewable sources), incentives for first movers to develop and take up new technologies, etc.;

-       possible candidate mid-term measures, which could be agreed between 2023 and 2030, such as the implementation programme for the effective uptake of alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels or innovative emission reduction mechanisms to incentivize GHG emission reduction, including for example Market-based Measures;

-       possible candidate long-term measures, which could be agreed beyond 2030, such as pursuing the development and provision of zero-carbon or fossil-free fuels or encouraging and facilitating the adoption of other innovative emission reduction mechanisms.

The Initial Strategy also provides that the impacts on States of a measure should be assessed and taken into account as appropriate before adoption of a measure.

IMO Member States agreed to keep this Strategy under review, including adoption of a Revised Strategy in 2023.

Recent developments in the implementation of the Initial Strategy

Building on the momentum following the adoption of the Initial Strategy, MEPC 73 (October 2018) approved a Programme of follow-up actions of the Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships up to 2023. This document constitutes a planning tool on the work for IMO in meeting the timelines identified in the Initial Strategy and includes expected timeframes.

According to this programme, MEPC 74 (May 2019) approved amendments to strengthen existing mandatory requirements for new ships to be more energy efficient; initiated the Fourth IMO GHG Study; adopted a resolution encouraging cooperation with ports to reduce emission from shipping; approved a procedure for the impact assessment of new measures proposed; agreed to establish a multi-donor trust fund for GHG; and discussed various candidate short-, mid- and long-term measures aiming at reducing GHG emissions from ships, to be further considered at next sessions. 

MEPC 74 also agreed terms of reference for the sixth and seventh intersessional working groups to be held in November 2019 and in March 2020 respectively in order to expedite the work.