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UN Secretary General castigates shipping industry progress on decarbonization

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has issued blunt words on the shipping industry’s progress on decarbonisation and has urged the International Maritime Organization to establish more “ambitious and credible targets.”

Addressing the UN Global Sustainable Transport Conference in Beijing, he declared: “Let’s be honest. While member states have made some initial steps through the International Civil Aviation Organization and the International Maritime Organization to address emissions from shipping and aviation, the current commitments are not aligned with the 1.5 degree [C] goal of the Paris agreement. In fact, they are more consistent with warming above three degrees.” 

Mr. Guterres called on the IMO and its member states to adopt a new set of “ambitious and credible targets that are truly consistent with the goals of the Paris agreement.”

He stressed the “urgent priority” should be progress towards full decarbonization by 2050 – not a 50 percent reduction, as currently envisioned in IMO’s climate “ambitions.” 

“Zero emissions ships must be the default choice, and commercially available for all by 2030 in order to achieve zero emissions in the shipping sector by 2050,” he said. 

Mr. Guterres also noted that there is room for improvement in working conditions in shipping, pointing to the “unsafe and inhumane” treatment of seafarers during the pandemic. Repeated waves of lockdowns, travel restrictions and disembarkation bans have made crew change – and even basic shore leave – a continuous challenge for the industry. 

His remarks have preceded the COP26 summit in Scotland, where world leaders will be meeting starting on October 31 to discuss progress on the Paris Climate Agreement. In addition, the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee – the agency’s forum for emissions negotiations – will be meeting for its 77th session on November 8-12. (photo from