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Canada Likely to Back Tougher GHG Target for International Shipping

Canada is considering an international proposal that would double the ambition of its greenhouse gas emissions targets from shipping—a plan observers say the country seems ready to support.

A committee of the International Maritime Organization, which sets the rules for the high seas, is debating a resolution this week that would set a net-zero target for all international shipping by 2050. The current target is to halve emissions by that date.

Last Friday, Transport Canada officials briefed stakeholders on the positions its representatives would take at the meeting.

“In that stakeholder discussion, Canada said it would be supporting the resolution,” Andrew Dumbrille WWF Canada’s lead specialist, marine shipping and conservation, told The Canadian Press.

Canada, which has an overall target of net-zero by 2050, also spoke in favour of the resolution Monday as the IMO committee meeting opened. “They made a very clear and unambiguous statement,” Dumbrille said.

Transport Canada wouldn’t confirm its position while the meeting was under way.

“Canada reiterated its commitment to reducing emissions from international shipping, in line with the Paris Agreement,” spokesperson Sau Liu told CP in an email. “Sending a clear and strong signal on ambition is essential as the full decarbonization of the sector will require significant efforts and investments.”

The resolution, proposed by a group of island states threatened by sea level rise, is expected to be discussed until the committee meetings close this Friday.

Dumbrille said decisions of the Marine Environment Protection Committee are usually made by consensus, but this resolution is contentious enough that it may go to a vote. “It’s a very heated debate,” he said.

He said members including the European Union, the United States, and the United Kingdom have been sympathetic to the resolution.

Miako Ushio of the Shipping Federation of Canada said industry supports getting to net-zero as soon as possible. She also said it’s important that regulations on the issue are international, rather than a patchwork from country to country.

Getting there, however, won’t be easy, she said.

“We need to acknowledge that enormous innovation, and investment in research and development are needed before carbon-neutral fuels and technologies will be ready for deployment by the ocean-going fleet on a global scale,” Ushio said. “Although zero emissions by 2050 are necessary to align with Paris Agreement goals, at this point it would be an aspirational target.”

Although shipping emissions represent less than 3% of the global total, they increased by 10% between 2012 and 2018.

“It’s quite a big deal,” said Dumbrille. “Action on climate change is a global concern, and the target at the IMO has been considered weak for years.”

The language in the resolution is non-binding, saying only that current targets are inadequate and net-zero is “essential.” But Dumbrille said even that’s an advance, and would start to bring shipping in line with what other economic sectors are already pledging.

“When the world is marching toward zero by 2050 in other sectors, for the IMO to be saying 50% is woefully inadequate.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published November 23, 2021.