UACES Microgrant Report: Getting to the 2023 IMO Revised GHG Strategy

Joseph Earsom |


International Shipping and Emissions: Background


Although international shipping accounts for approximately 3% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, its share of global emissions is projected to continue to rise in the coming decades.  


Accordingly, international shipping’s current trajectory is incompatible with the Paris Agreement and its 1.5° warming objective. At the 80th session of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 80), members of the London-based UN agency finalised negotiations around a revised IMO strategy to reduce GHG emissions within international shipping. 


On 7 July 2023, the MEPC adopted the IMO 2023 Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships. The strategy establishes the following targets: 


  • Reduce emissions by 20% (compared to 2008 levels), striving for 30%, by 2030 
  • Reduce emissions by 70%, striving for 80%, by 2040 
  • Net-zero GHG emissions “by or around, i.e., close to, 2050” 


To get there, the IMO will employ a basket of economic and technical measures, leaving the door open for carbon pricing and other tools to be used. Although the 2023 IMO Strategy was not as ambitious as science and many states had called for, it was a multilateral compromise 


Thanks to the UACES microgrant, I saw that compromise being reached firsthand.  


My Research Interest in Climate Diplomacy


As part of my PhD, I looked at the European Union’s (EU) climate diplomacy with respect to four multilateral negotiations, including the 2018 IMO Initial Strategy on Reduction of GHG Emissions from Ships. For the Initial Strategy negotiation, EU member states supported Pacific Small Island Developing States in driving ambition within the IMO and in ultimately delivering the Initial Strategy. Since then, the EU has pushed forward on its own, with the inclusion of a shipping-related provision within the European Green Deal. Shipping will soon be included within the EU’s Emissions Trading System (ETS): a cap-and-trade mechanism aimed at reducing GHG emissions. Needless to say, I was very interested in seeing how these developments would shape the 2023 negotiations. 


Impact of The UACES Microgrant


When I began my PhD in 2019, I had every intention of conducting in-person interviews and participant observation as part of my data collection. Like many other PhD researchers, my plans were turned upside down with the COVID-19 pandemic. I relied heavily on WebEx and Microsoft Teams to speak with officials and diplomats. MEPC 80 was thus one of the first opportunities I had to observe a negotiation in person and interact with delegates. 


Going into MEPC 80, I was relatively confident – from an academic perspective – in my understanding of the IMO and multilateral negotiations. I quickly learned that practice and theory are very different things! It is one thing to read about the negotiation process, but observing in person how a compromise comes together is an entirely different matter. I feel privileged to have followed the process. To give a few examples, I observed impassioned interventions and unwavering efforts by Pacific Island States to increase ambition, diplomats huddled during coffee breaks in order to broker a deal on text, and an impressive spirit of camaraderie in the room when the 2023 Strategy was adopted.  


I am a much better scholar for having attended MEPC 80 as an academic observer and look forward to applying this rich data to my current research project.