Adoption of the global shipping climate strategy is momentous


Special Envoy for Shipping and Blue Economy Ambassador Nancy Karigithu addressing delegates during the launch of her bid as Africa’s endorsed candidate for the position of Secretary General of the International Maritime organization at KICC, Nairobi on May 17, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

On July 7, 2022, the global community under the auspices of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) adopted a new strategy on the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from ships.

The international efforts to address climate change have been undertaken within the ambit of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCC).

Subsequent meetings of the parties referred to as the conference of the parties, agree to strategies, targets and rules on how to deal with climate mitigation, adaptation, and financing with a view to accelerating climate action.

When the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1998, shipping, just like aviation, was excluded from the purview of the UNFCC regulatory framework.

This same approach was taken to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in 2015.

The decision was not due to the non-contribution of the shipping sector to the emission of greenhouse gases and thus climate change discourse, but because of its unique nature as a sector.

The question about which country is to have responsibility for pollution from a particular ship is complicated, because of legal issues around port state and flag state.

Several ships owned by one country fly under the “flag” and thus legal regulation of another state, for example.

Due to the above complexities, the IMO was vested with the responsibility of designing a framework to ensure the decarbonisation of the shipping sector by addressing emissions arising from international shipping trade.

The initial strategy on this issue was adopted in 2018 with the ambition of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and eventually phasing them within the current century.

The initial strategy was to be replaced by a revised strategy in 2023.

On July 7, 2023, the member states of the IMO adopted the revised strategy in London. That strategy, just like its predecessor, reiterated the commitment of the IMO to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping and eventually phasing them out.

However, it did not have a timeframe for doing so, just stating this would happen as soon as possible. It also committed to the promotion of a just and equitable transition.

Kenya was a key actor in the process leading up to the adoption of the strategy and indeed a critical member of the IMO.

The July meeting took place against the backdrop of campaigns for the next Secretary General of the organisation, a process where Kenya had a candidate, the former principal secretary for shipping and maritime affairs, Nancy Karigithu.

While she eventually lost the vote to Arsenio Domingue of Panama, our intention to lead the organisation is evidence of the importance the country attaches to international shipping and its effective regulation.

The strategy adoption was a huge milestone in efforts to align the sector to the larger climate agenda under the Paris Agreement. The use of words like just and equitable transition, and agreement to focus on net-zero GHG emissions by or around 2050 demonstrated compromises by the parties.

The writer is a law professor at the University of Nairobi.

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