WASHINGTON (Circa) -- Global leaders from more than 100 countries gathered in London this week for a summit of the International Maritime Organization’s Marine Environment Protection Committee to hash out a plan to reduce the shipping industry's emissions by 2050.
“It’s important because shipping is actually vital for sustainable development," Lee Adamson, the IMO's head of communications, said in a release. "It carries about 80 percent of global trade, including most of the goods and commodities that we rely on in our everyday lives."
On Friday, the IMO released a statement announcing that member states adopted a strategy to reduce the shipping sector's total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050 compared to 2008.
This initial strategy is scheduled to be revised by 2030, but it lays out short, mid and long-term goals for member states. It also identifies various technological innovations, such as ways to make more energy efficient ships, to help the industry reach that goal.
One of the midterm goals is to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emissions by at least 40 percent by 2030.
The shipping industry is currently responsible for more than 2 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2017 report from The International Council on Clean Transportation.
And the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) notes that if the shipping sector were a country, it would be the world's sixth largest emitter.
Despite the fact that both the shipping and aviation industries produce a significant amount of emissions, they were left out of the Paris Agreement, which aims to keep global temperature levels below 2 degrees Celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
As a result, two United Nations specialized agencies, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), are responsible for regulating emissions.
“Today I once again exhort all of you to demonstrate the best cooperative spirit, in the interest of maritime communities and future generations.” IMO head Kitack Lim opens packed environment meeting with clear message to delegates https://t.co/InPnv7wyd0 #MEPC72 #ClimateChange pic.twitter.com/WfWndSobZY— IMO (@IMOHQ) April 9, 2018
Brad Schallert, the deputy director of the international climate cooperation at WWF, explained that the outcome of this week's meeting would help define the IMO's goal and set what the trajectory of emissions should look like going forward.
"Even in the process of getting to a zero carbon shipping sector by 2050, we need to be concerned about the overall amount of emissions that are being emitted," he said. "You can't suddenly drop off in 2050 and hit your goal; you need to have a pathway to get there."
Schallert said there are already some tangible ways for the shipping industry to achieve their current broad goal of simply reducing emissions.
One short-term policy, Schallert explained, could be implementing something called slow steaming, which means slowing a ship down to its optimal speed not to waste carbon.
"What has happened over the past few years is with low oil prices, that reduces the incentive, the national incentive, for shipping companies to go slow," Schallert said.
Because oil is cheap, he said many shipping companies would speed up to get to the port more quickly.
Schallert added that many shipping companies are working to develop electric ships as a more long-term goal.
In fact, China launched its first completely electric cargo ship in late 2017. China Daily reported that the ship could travel approximately 80 kilometers (about 50 miles) after being charged for two hours.
That's just one example, Schallert said, of a country working independently to decarbonize the shipping sector.
"I think what's important to recognize is that the shipping sector does recognize that there needs to be a long-term decarbonization pathway and it's about getting the sector's own emissions down," Schallert said.
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