Most international trade is carried by ship, making shipping indispensable to the world. But this brings a challenge to ensure that, in the spirit of the Paris Agreement, international shipping moves towards cleaner energy, reduces its emissions and supports the UN‑adopted Sustainable Development Goals.

This is not an easy task. Like other transport, shipping is still largely powered by fossil fuel‑powered engines. Shipping is not a country, so allocating emissions is not straightforward. Ships can move between flags, just as they can sail between countries. Moreover, demand for shipping is dictated by world markets, the ever-increasing desire for consumer goods and the basic need for raw materials and commodities that support economic growth and sustainable development.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO), the United Nations agency charged with regulating international shipping, has embarked shipping on a voyage to a greener future. Firstly, IMO has adopted binding technical and operational energy-efficiency measures which apply to all ships globally, regardless of trading pattern or flag State.

Secondly, by focusing on capacity building and technology, IMO is supporting countries worldwide to implement these measures effectively and is encouraging green technology research and development. Thirdly, IMO member States have agreed a roadmap incorporating a three-step approach towards consideration of further measures.

The mandatory energy-efficiency requirements for international shipping were adopted by IMO in 2011 and entered into force in 2013 under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) Annex VI. More than 1,900 new ships have now been certified as complying with the energy-efficiency standards for ships and work to review the phased implementation of the Energy Efficiency Design Index requirements is underway.

To support this work, the Global Environment Facility (GEF)-United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-IMO Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Partnership (GloMEEP) Project has developed a freely available IMO Energy Efficiency Technologies Information Portal, outlining the wide spectrum of ways to potentially reduce ship fuel consumption. These range from engine waste heat recovery to energy‑efficient lighting systems – already available – to the use of kites or wind sails, currently at the experimental stage.

The GloMEEP Project is working in ten lead pilot countries (Argentina, China, Georgia, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, Panama, Philippines and South Africa). It aims to create global, regional and national partnerships to build capacity to address maritime energy efficiency and for countries to bring this into the mainstream within their own development policies, programmes and dialogues.

The Project has already delivered a series of national workshops and two global workshops, including “train-the-trainer” programmes, which aim to cascade technical knowledge. Also, a range of technical guides, which will be made freely available, have been developed in collaboration with the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST).

IMO is also executing a four-year project, funded by the European Union, on Capacity Building for Climate Change Mitigation in the Maritime Shipping Sector to establish a global network of five Maritime Technology Cooperation Centres in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. The aim is to help beneficiary countries limit and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from their shipping sectors. The Project will encourage the uptake of energy‑efficiency technologies through the dissemination of technical information and know‑how.

The output of the capacity-building projects will undoubtedly help support IMO member States as they move through the agreed three-step process towards consideration of any further global measures for international shipping for climate change mitigation.

Governments at IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) in October 2016 adopted mandatory requirements for ships to record and report their fuel oil consumption. The data collection is set to begin from 1 January 2019. Crucially, this is a global regime, applied universally to ships of 5,000 gross tonnage and above.

In October 2016, the MEPC also approved a roadmap for developing a ‘Comprehensive IMO strategy on reduction of GHG emissions from ships,’ which foresees an initial GHG strategy to be adopted in 2018.

The Paris Agreement has placed increased scrutiny on IMO’s work to address GHG emissions from shipping and thereby contribute to the global imperative to tackle climate change. IMO is playing a major role in ensuring that the spirit of the Agreement is translated into appropriate, tangible and lasting improvements in shipping, an industry which is vital to world trade.