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Shipping Lobby Group Advises Caution on Climate Targets

A ship is docked
FILE – A ship is docked at the Port of Los Angeles on Nov. 21, 2022. A confidential document obtained by The Associated Press shows the International Chamber of Shipping advised its national branches in March that member companies should “give careful consideration to the possible implications” before committing to a new plan to reduce maritime emissions. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

By ED DAVEY Associated Press

An influential shipping industry group has quietly warned shippers to think carefully before they sign
up for a new plan to reduce pollution and eventually eliminate their contribution to climate change.

The International Chamber of Shipping represents four fifths of the world’s commercial fleet, and in
2021 committed to the Paris Agreement’s target to reduce greenhouse gases down to zero by 2050. “Talk
is cheap, action is difficult,” chairman Esben Poulsson said at the time.

But a confidential document obtained by The Associated Press shows the International Chamber of
Shipping advised its national branches in March that member companies should “give careful
consideration to the possible implications” before committing to a new plan to reduce maritime

Under the plan, shipping companies will declare all their vessels with their emissions, inputting them
into a new software tool. That includes pollution starting at the oil well all the way to the engines,

said Jean-Marc Bonello, a naval architect at UMAS, a for-profit maritime consultancy launched by
experts from University College London, who helped design the tool. Shippers will then have to improve
efficiency or use cleaner fuel to reduce their emissions 60% by 2036.

Shipping accounts for almost 3% of greenhouse gas emissions, according to the International Maritime
Organization. A European Parliament report has warned that share could increase dramatically by 2050.

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has drawn up plans tailored to numerous industries
including chemicals, oil and gas and aviation. It’s a partnership between several nonprofits and the
United Nations Global Compact, an initiative launched by the U.N. Secretary General. The maritime SBTi,
published last fall, says the shipping industry must cut its emissions 45% by 2030 to keep on track
with Paris goals which try to limit total temperature rises to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees

Stuart Neil, director of communications for the International Chamber of Shipping, said in a phone
interview the group acted after some of its member companies asked how the system would affect their
businesses. It wasn’t a case of warning the shipping companies off, he said, pointing to another line
in the memo that says the targets are an important initiative. The group was simply concerned about
shipping companies signing on without proper analysis. “It has to be properly thought through,” he

One objection of the industry lobby group is that the target would force shippers to count their
indirect emissions, including those produced while making marine fuels, and doesn’t take into account
that more energy gets used navigating in bad weather.

Responding to the claim the group was reluctant to act, Neil said it had put forward various
decarbonization proposals of its own. It has suggested a $5 billion research and development fund to
accelerate decarbonization, and calling on the International Maritime Organization to up its net-zero-
by-2050 ambitions.

But some marine climate advocates are incensed.

John Maggs, shipping policy director at Seas At Risk and president of the Clean Shipping Coalition,
said by email that the SBTi plan was the “absolute minimum” to keep warming below 1.5 degrees.

“Without immediate action and deep cuts before 2030, the task becomes almost impossible without
significant industry disruption.”

The group has “always been the least ambitious, lowest common denominator ship industry actor,” Maggs
said, “and the thought that they might actually have to do something significant soon horrifies them.”

A target thirty years in the future is not sufficient, Maggs warned, something echoed by scientists and
international agencies. Targets for 2030 and 2040 are necessary. He said more research and development
is not needed, because technology and knowledge to clean up shipping already exists.

For example, a 10% reduction in speed would lead to a 27% decline in emissions, he said. Hybrid ships
that run on a combination of wind power and marine fuels could also dramatically cut emissions. Ships
retrofitted with sails might save 10-30% in emissions, he said, and ships built to be cleaner from the
start could save 50-70%. He listed eight vessels under design or in construction that claim such

Michael Prehn is a diplomat for the Solomon Islands, which is urging the International Maritime
Organisation to adopt the SBTi targets. The Pacific islands are among the worst affected nations from
rising sea levels. Prehn agreed the SBTi targets were the bare minimum to keep global warming to 1.5 C.

“We often hear from various industries they want to do something that is ‘feasible,'” he said. “Usually
not feasible just means very expensive.”

If nothing changes it will result in a climate catastrophe devastating to the lives of Pacific
islanders, he warned. “We’ve already had storms which are much more violent than they used to be. If
there’s no transition, we are going to drown, or have to move the population somewhere else.”

Bonello of the maritime consultancy called the lobby group’s action shortsighted. He said the evidence
shows the plans are realistic and achievable.

“Watering it down is a dangerous strategy,” he added.

But Neil said the science-based targets will definitely have an effect on business operations.

“We do not want companies to sign up to an initiative on a PR basis.”


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