Historic Background

International policy framework on climate change

Evidence in the 1960s and 1970s that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere were increasing led climatologists and other scientists to press for action against the threats posed by climate change.

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 adopt the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) during 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, the major feature of which 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 the 7th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC  (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 nature, and called for pursuing action 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.

In April 2016, MEPC 69 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 Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (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, the International Conference of Parties to the MARPOL Convention which adopted the Protocol of 1997 to amend the MARPOL Convention (MARPOL Annex VI) also adopted Conference 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 pursued measures to limit and reduce GHG emissions from international shipping.

IMO GHG studies

Taking the need for an evidence-based decision-making balanced with the principle of a precautionary approach set out in resolution MEPC.67(37), the IMO has undertaken since 1998 to carry out studies to estimate GHG emissions from global shipping and possible ways of reducing them.

More information here.

The initiation of energy efficiency measures in international shipping

In order to reduce shipping's  impact on climate change IMO has started to consider technical and operational measures to improve the energy efficiency of ships.

In 2011, IMO adopted mandatory technical and operational energy efficiency measures to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions from international shipping (resolution MEPC.203(62)). The Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for existing ships entered into force on 1 January 2013. Those measures represent 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.

More information here.

The mandatory fuel oil consumption Data Collection System (DCS)

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 those ships responsible for 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 other specified data.

More information here.

The Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships

In April 2018, MEPC 72 adopted resolution MEPC.304(72) on the Initial IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships. This important agreement represents the framework for further action by the Committee, setting out the future vision for international shipping decarbonization. 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 candidate short-, mid- and long-term further measures with possible  timelines and their impacts on States.

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

More information here.

The short-term GHG reduction measure

In June 2021, MEPC 76 adopted a short-term GHG reduction measure to meet the objective of reducing the carbon intensity of international shipping in 2030 by at least 40%, compared to 2008 levels in line with the Initial Strategy ambition. This measure is a combination of mandatory technical and operational requirements aimed at improving the design/technical efficiency of existing ships with the Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI), and optimizing the operational energy efficiency of existing ships with the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) rating system.

More information here.

Revision of the IMO Strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships

In accordance with the timetable agreed at the time of its adoption, a Revised IMO GHG Strategy is expected to be adopted by MEPC 80 (July 2023). MEPC agreed to revise the IMO GHG Strategy in all its elements including a strengthened level of ambition.

More information here.

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