The global shipping industry produces as much carbon dioxide annually as Germany. Experts warn that this sector is fast becoming an obstacle in the fight against climate change. However, with the upcoming UN summit starting on Monday, there is renewed hope to address the maritime industry’s environmental impact.

Highly polluting fuels significantly contribute to the shipping industry’s carbon footprint. Currently, this sector is responsible for approximately 3% of global carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to Germany’s annual emissions or that of 243 coal plants.

Experts have warned that the lack of progressive action could surge shipping emissions by 50% by the middle of the century. This looming threat underscores the urgency for immediate measures to curb emissions and chart a sustainable course for the maritime sector’s future.

Shipping is the backbone of international trade, moving 90% of the world’s goods across oceans and seas.

And yet, there are no current goals for the sector to achieve “net zero” emissions.

The “net zero” emissions concept is at the forefront of discussions, where emissions generated by ships would be balanced with the removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Several delegates advocate for an ambitious target to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, along with a milestone to halve emissions by 2030.

If adopted, this proposal would mark a significant climate achievement, often referred to as the “deal of the decade” by environmental activists.

The challenge, however, lies in navigating long-standing debates among the shipping industry, governments, and environmental organisations. Finding common ground on how to make sea transport more environmentally friendly is tricky. In the past, the shipping industry’s green transition was deemed too complex for inclusion in the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Representatives from 175 shipping countries will convene under the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) in London. This meeting aims to establish an ambitious timeline for the decarbonisation of the shipping industry.

Campaigners, aware of the critical need to address climate change, advocate for more ambitious targets. Proposals are being put forward to reduce emissions by approximately 50% by 2030, with the ultimate goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Some even propose an accelerated decarbonisation timeline by 2040. These ambitious goals aim to catalyse green technologies adoption and revolutionise the shipping industry.

Past efforts to strengthen climate ambition at the IMO have faced resistance from China, India, and Saudi Arabia. These countries are concerned about safeguarding their domestic shipping interests.

Ahead of the UN meeting, China has made a motion urging poorer countries to resist a proposed levy on shipping emissions and stricter targets for decarbonising the shipping industry. Beijing’s stance comes as wealthy nations advocate for more ambitious climate goals with substantial financial implications.

The lobbying push follows France’s success in garnering support from 22 allies for a shipping emissions levy. However, China warned that “an overly ambitious emission reduction target will seriously impede the sustainable development of international shipping, significantly increase the cost of the supply chain, and adversely affect the global economy’s recovery.”

With the world’s attention focused on London, the hope remains that collective efforts, political will, and a shared commitment to a greener future will prevail.