Decarbonising maritime transport: The EU perspective

Briefing 21-10-2020

International maritime transport is the backbone of the global economy. However, vessels release emissions that pollute the air and contribute significantly to global warming. As shipping is forecast to grow, reducing these emissions is urgent, in order not to undermine emissions-reducing efforts in other areas, to keep humans healthy, preserve the environment and limit climate change. Although international shipping was not explicitly mentioned in the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, efforts to make shipping cleaner and greener have since progressed. International rules to reduce air-polluting emissions from ships have been agreed in the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Their impact, in particular the application of stricter limits for sulphur content in marine fuels since 1 January 2020, is yet to be evaluated. Parallel efforts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from maritime shipping have resulted in the setting of rules on collecting data on fuel oil consumption and the first collected data becoming available. In 2018, the IMO adopted an initial strategy for reducing GHG emissions, aimed at cutting shipping GHG emissions by at least 50 % by 2050, compared to 2008 levels. While concrete steps are yet to be agreed, achieving this goal will require both short-term emission-reducing measures and longer-term measures to make shipping switch to alternative fuels. Short-term guidance from the IMO is expected in 2020. On the EU front, the European Commission announced in the European Green Deal that GHG from EU transport should be cut by 90 % by 2050 and outlined how this would involve shipping. Initial measures are to be proposed by the end of 2020. This briefing reviews the existing international and EU rules on shipping emissions and their application, looks into the short-term measures under discussion and maps the landscape of marine fuels and technologies that could help decarbonise shipping in the long term.