New hopes for climate change mitigation in international shipping?

On Monday (03.12.), the first day of COP24, the side event “Achieving the IMO GHG Reduction objectives: fossil fuels, climate change and economic development” shed light on the new Initial Strategy of the IMO (International Maritime Organization) to reduce CO2 emissions. The session included a panel with speakers from IMO, the industry and academia.

Screen Shot 2018-12-03 at 11.19.39 PM.png

To date, over 80% of worldwide goods are traded via shipping. Emissions of the shipping sector contributed with 2.2% to global greenhouse gas emissions in 2012 (Smith et al., 2015), whereas about 80% result from international activities. This share of emissions is expected to grow as demand for shipping will likely continue to increase in future due to increasing globalisation and economic development.

In spring 2018, the IMO adopted an Initial Strategy on the reduction of GHGs (MEPC, 2018). The strategy entails different levels of ambition. Firstly, emissions should peak as soon as possible and total GHG emissions should be reduced by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008, while pursuing efforts to phasing them out entirely. The phase-out should happen as soon as possible this century in line with the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. Secondly, average carbon intensity (CO2 per transport work) should be reduced by at least 40% by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050 compared to 2008. The Initial Strategy is in the context of the approval of a roadmap (2017-2023) for developing a “comprehensive IMO strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships” (IMO, 2018, p.18). The adoption of a Revised IMO Strategy is planned for 2023 (IMO, 2018).

While the roadmap roughly outlines what could be done, the side event at COP was not only about presenting the Initial Strategy but also about what concrete measures could be adopted to reduce emissions from ships.

According to Edmund Hughes, one of the panellist working for IMO, the Strategy was a “major step forward” but that alternative fuels (biofuels, synthetic fuels like ammonia and hydrogen) and technological innovation is necessary to achieve the goals of the initial IMO strategy. A delegate from Japan highlighted the problems for decarbonizing the sector but also gave interesting examples of operational and technical measures to be applied in the short- and mid-term. In the final presentation of Dr. Tristan Smith from the University College London, it became clear that also in the shipping sector the disparities between developed and developing countries are present and need to be considered, especially when market-based measures and carbon pricing are discussed.



MEPC. (2018). INITIAL IMO STRATEGY ON REDUCTION OF GHG EMISSIONS FROM SHIPS. MEPC72, Resolution MEPC 72/17/Add.1 483, Published 13.04.2018. Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) of the International Maritime Organization (IMO).Available:

SMITH, T., JALKANEN, J., ANDERSON, B., CORBETT, J., FABER, J., HANAYAMA, S., O'KEEFFE, E., PARKER, S., JOHANASSON, L. & ALDOUS, L. (2015). Third IMO GHG Study 2014. London: International Maritime Organization.

Talanoa Dialogue at COP23

Last Year at COP22 in Marrakech, much of the media conversation was distracted by the US election results, and the instability of what would become of the Paris Agreement without the US’s commitment. Would it fall the way of the Kyoto Protocol? Would the economics work in its favor, as they did in the case of the Montreal Protocol? Countries weren’t sure, but they knew that inaction was too risky. They signed the Marrakech Action Protocol, indicating that they were all “Still In” regardless of what other countries decided. The decision was a powerful statement of unity for the environmental community worldwide, and a fierce posture against the new administration’s foreign policy stance. This effort was paired with a decision to include more non-state actors. Where states fail to act or where they are limited in their reach, their capacities can be expanded by including civil society in the implementation, tracking and policy making. This decision let to the organization of a Facilitative Dialogue in 2018.

The facilitative dialogue was called to address three questions:

              Where Are We?                            Where do we need to be?                             How do we get there?

These three questions were to be answered through a conversation between the stakeholders and the 196 nations that are part of the Paris Agreement.

Stakeholders have long been fighting for a voice in the decision making of international climate change agreements, and this dialogue was especially important to youth.  Within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), there are nine recognized constituency groups (a network of organizations that share a common purpose). They are: Business & Industry, Research & Investigation, Youth, Environmental, Local Government & Municipal Authorities, Indigenous Peoples, Farmers, Women & Gender, and Trade Unions. Each constituency has one or more policy position that they would like to see pushed through during the negotiations. Each of these constituency groups would now have a stronger voice through the Facilitative Dialogue.

photo courtesy of IISD Reporting Services.

photo courtesy of IISD Reporting Services.

During Week One, Fiji Prime Minister and COP23 President, Frank Bainimarama and UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosaheld an Open Dialogue between party actors and constituency groups. This was the first time for many constituency groups to have a seat at the table with equal footing and an equal voice in the conversation. Statements made by constituencies were given freely, not limited or timed as they typically are. The Fiji presidency compared the dialogue to a process called talanoa, a storytelling style used in the Pacific that emphasizes participation, inclusion and transparency, on a basis of trust and empathy.

photo courtesy of IISD Reporting Services.

photo courtesy of IISD Reporting Services.

Parties engaged as well, responding to concerns of different constituency groups. The UK mentioned locking business leaders in a room until they figured out how to transition to a green economy, while Mexico joked that their businesses went into the room willingly. Uganda talked about a national climate change forum they held with non-party stakeholders to engage youth and community organizations in climate change adaptation.

Youth asked for greater focus on climate empowerment, with financial and institutional support for their programs so that they can take action in their home countries. We also asked for climate empowerment, capacity building, and climate change education to be included in countries’ national climate action plans, especially for mitigation.

photo courtesy of IISD Reporting Services.

photo courtesy of IISD Reporting Services.

Moving into next year, there will be an online platform where we can contribute to the dialogue to try and answer some of these questions of where we’re at, where we’re going, and how to get there. The purpose of this dialogue is to create solutions, to drive innovation, and propose realistic means through which we limit global average temperature rise to 1.5⁰C.  Next year will be the big year to get these solutions together so that countries can start putting them in place worldwide before the 2023 Global Stocktake, when a count will be done of each country’s present and reduced emissions, carbon sinks, and mitigation efforts.

Youth around the world are already acting on the ground to create synergy for emissions reductions. Plant-for-the-PlanetClimate Smart Agriculture Youth Network, and CliMates are just a couple examples of organizations that bring thousands of youth together for reforestation, less invasive farming, and campaign building. For capacity-building, Youth Climate Lab, China Youth Climate Action Network and Care About Climate have created tools for youth worldwide to connect on online platforms to discuss the issues, solutions, and strategies for youth activists to be most effective in their work to address climate change locally, regionally or nationally. In terms of policy action, on an international level, we have working groups within YOUNGO that address many policy issues such as

Adaptation, Women & Gender, Capacity-Building, Oceans, etc. These work to consolidate our policy positions into a specific request of policy-makers.

Kava- a traditional Pacific drink

Kava- a traditional Pacific drink

Over the next year, the UNFCCC will be continuing the Talanoa Dialogue at intersessionals in May and at COP24 in Poland. We look forward to drinking kava and having many more talanoa sessions! In the meantime, we’ll be continuing with our capacity building work year-round and working to make it as inclusive and transparent as possible. As Mr. Bainimarama said, “We are all in the same canoe“, we must work together to find & implement solutions.


By Sarah Voska

Sarah Voska is a delegate to the UN climate change conference, COP23, and the director of the Online Youth Exchange. She studies Sustainable Management at University of Wisconsin-Parkside. Use the #ClimateSign to join the fight against climate change. Contact us at with any questions!