COP27: It’s time for IMO to deliver on shipping decarbonization

By Johannah Christensen CEO, Global Maritime Forum & Katharine Palmer, Shipping Lead, Climate Champions | November 21, 2022

COP27, dubbed the “Implementation COP,” saw shipping’s climate actions highlighted beyond  our expectations. As the inevitable shift away from fossil fuels takes another leap forward, it is no longer a question of the direction of travel, but rather one of how fast the industry can move and, in doing so, inspire other sectors.

Our message going into COP27 was clear, the world cannot keep 1.5°C alive without decarbonizing shipping and now is the time to put shipping on a 1.5°C aligned trajectory as well as set ambitious 2030 and 2040 targets. Over the past two weeks, leaders from across the maritime and energy sectors showed that a 1.5°C aligned transformation is possible, demonstrating solutions in zero-emission fuels and technologies, a just transition and port resilience, and that scaling and acceleration requires radical collaboration across all parties. Shipping is no longer a ‘hard to abate’ sector but one that acts as a climate solution, not only by decarbonizing its own emissions but also providing solutions and resilience benefits to wider communities, cities, and countries – as exemplified with the launch of the maritime resilience breakthroughs.

Shipping was high on the agenda of more than just the maritime leaders; shipping for the first time was included in a world leader’s statement from President Biden. Many now recognize that we cannot decarbonize our economies and ensure resilient societies without decarbonizing shipping. Shipping clearly is being seen as a source of climate solutions and a key sector to  lead the way.

So what can we take away from our time in the desert?

A 1.5°C-aligned transformation is possible, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. What we witnessed on the ground in Sharm el-Sheikh was promising—governments, maritime  industry leaders and private companies made many commitments to accelerate shipping’s transition to zero-emission fuels and vessels, facilitate green shipping corridors, and align the  sector to limit global temperature rise to less than 1.5°C. The world’s largest green hydrogen producers and maritime leaders came together and signed a joint statement committing to the rapid adoption of green hydrogen-based fuels this decade to get on track for full decarbonization  by 2050, with the intent to demonstrate that there will be a sufficient supply of green fuels and  demand for zero-emissions shipping.

In addition, the Clydebank Declaration celebrated its first birthday and provided an opportunity  to demonstrate progress in the implementation of green corridors with more than 20 Green Corridor consortia announced in just 12 months – many more than were expected by mid decade. If these corridors succeed, zero-emission shipping will be a commercially viable option  anywhere by 2030.

Another take-away is that COP27 achieved putting people and communities at the center of  climate action. The Just transition Maritime Task Force launched a 10 point action plan to address and breakthrough that 800,000 seafarers need to be upskilled and retrained by the mid 2030s. Seafarers also took the lead in shipping discussions, as did stakeholders from the Global  South. A new analysis from the Africa Green Hydrogen Alliance showcased that green  hydrogen could sustainably industrialize Africa and boost GDP by 6 to 12% in six African countries. Africa could be a continent to spearhead shipping’s decarbonization, and if its potential is unlocked, green hydrogen could increase GDP by 12% by 2050. This has set the standard and the new norm to ensure that there are no representation gaps related to gender, age, and geographical location. We must leave no one behind and include developing and  vulnerable countries in the transition process.

The maritime sector announcements at COP27 demonstrate that 1.5°C-aligned transformation is only possible if pledges and climate commitments are converted into concrete actions now. This will require a whole-system approach and radical collaboration, as well as corresponding  policies and regulatory clarity from the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

We are at a critical point in the GHG negotiations at the IMO, which is set to adopt a revised GHG strategy in July next year and agree on details of policy measures to price emissions and  develop a GHG fuel standard. As a sector, we thus have a unique window of opportunity to engage with countries, communities, and policymakers to raise the ambition and shape the  policy. The opportunity is now – and we must seize this.

Looking ahead to COP28 in UAE next year, there should not be any doubt that the IMO has heeded our call for 1.5°C and maritime resilience. The maritime industry is ready to lead the way in our transition to a clean, just, and resilient zero-carbon world.


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