The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has adopted a set of revised goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from international shipping, as the sector strives to speed up decarbonisation.

The updated targets include a 20% reduction in total annual emissions by 2030 compared to 2008 levels and a 70% reduction in total emissions by 2040.

Net zero is set to be achieved “by or around” 2050, to allow for “different national circumstances”.

Previously, the goal was a reduction in total annual emissions of at least 50% by 2050, compared to 2008 levels.

Following two weeks of talks at the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80), IMO member states also agreed that at least 5% of the energy used in international shipping should come from zero or near-zero GHG emission fuels and technologies by 2030.

Currently, zero-carbon fuels are at a relatively early stage of development, though hydrogen-based energy is likely to play a significant role.

Mid-term measures, which could enter into force as early as 2027, include a global fuel standard – which will reduce the allowable carbon intensity of marine fuels – and a levy on GHG emissions from international shipping to fund climate action and potentially support countries most at risk from climate change.

IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim says the revised strategy “opens a new chapter towards maritime decarbonisation”, but acknowledges that more needs to be done.

“At the same time, it is not the end goal, it is in many ways a starting point for the work that needs to intensify even more over the years and decades ahead of us,” Lim says.

Industry bodies have welcomed the news, with the Baltic and International Maritime Council hailing it as a “groundbreaking” strategy.

“This marks a new beginning for shipping’s energy transition, with clear goals and milestones,” says John Butler, president and chief executive of the World Shipping Council.

“The next two years will be critical – for 2050 targets to be achievable IMO member nations must develop and agree on a lifecycle-based global fuel standard and economic measure by 2025, so they can be implemented by 2027,” Butler adds.

“Any logistics or commodities company not yet reducing its vessel emissions, and not accurately reporting those reductions, will struggle to keep up,” Adam Hearne, CEO and co-founder of CarbonChain, a carbon accounting solutions provider, tells GTR.

“With tightening regulation and carbon regulations like the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism coming into force, the whole supply chain is waking up to the need to select lower-carbon suppliers and offer lower-carbon services and products,” he says.

Hearne notes that levies are still “firmly on the table”, and that “2027 seems late for the corresponding regulations to come into force — but if they’re stringent enough, the target is possible”.

Yet for some campaign groups, the revised strategy is not as ambitious as it could have been.

Delaine McCullough, campaign manager for shipping emissions at environmental advocacy group Ocean Conservancy, claims that “the IMO’s struggle to set a GHG strategy this week that adequately responds to the climate emergency raises questions of whether the organisation ultimately is up for the task”.

“While the new GHG strategy nearly doubles the long-term ambition over the initial 2018 strategy, the checkpoints for 2030 and 2040 that were finally agreed to fall short of what is needed to ensure a warming limit of 1.5°C,” McCullough says.

According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, global shipping will exceed its share of the 1.5°C carbon budget by around 2032, but will not exceed 1.7°C, provided it follows the revised plan.