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Cutting GHG emission from shipping – 10 years of mandatory rules

2021 marks a decade of action since IMO adopted the first set of mandatory energy efficiency measures for ships.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) is marking a decade of action on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from shipping, since the first set of international mandatory measures to improve ships’ energy efficiency was adopted on 15 July 2011, as part of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL).

Cutting GHG emissions from ships

To support the implementation of the measures and encourage innovation, IMO has been implementing a comprehensive capacity building and technical assistance programme, including a range of global projects.

These include the GEF-UNP-IMO GloMEEP Project (now concluded), the European Union funded global network of maritime technology cooperation centres (GMN project), the IMO-Norway GreenVoyage2050 project and the IMO-Republic of Korea GHG SMART Project.

IMO Secretary-General Kitack Lim said,

In July 2011, the first set of mandatory measures to improve the energy efficiency of new build ships was adopted, fundamentally changing the baseline for the performance of the incoming global fleet in terms of emission reduction.

The pace of regulatory work to address GHG emissions from shipping has continued within the framework of the IMO Initial Strategy for reducing GHG emissions from shipping, and most recently with the adoption of further, key short-term measures aimed at cutting the carbon intensity of all ships – new build and existing ships – by at least 40% by 2030, compared to the 2008 baseline, in line with the initial strategy ambitions.

The package of mandatory measures combined with implementation support sets shipping on a pathway to decarbonization. There is more work to do, but we have solid foundations, which is contributing to the global fight against climate change” Mr. Lim said.

IMO has issued an infographic outlining key regulatory and implementation support steps.


Addressing climate change - a decade of action to cut GHG emissions from shipping FINAL (14-07-21) small


Regulations to cut emissions from ships

The issue of controlling air pollution from ships – in particular, noxious gases from ships’ exhausts was discussed at IMO as early as the 1970s, but drew more attention in 1988 when the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) agreed to include the issue of air pollution in its work programme.

In 1991, IMO adopted Assembly Resolution A.719(17) on Prevention of Air Pollution from Ships. The Resolution called on the MEPC to prepare a new draft Annex to MARPOL on prevention of air pollution.

The Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in December 1997, was a major step in the fight against climate change. It operationalized the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by committing industrialized countries and economies in transition to limit and reduce greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions in accordance with agreed individual targets.

In response, in the same year at the 1997 MARPOL Conference, IMO adopted MARPOL Annex VI on regulations for the prevention of air pollution from ships. This resolution invited the MEPC to consider what CO2 reduction strategies might be feasible in light of the relationship between CO2 and other atmospheric and marine pollutants.

The resolution also invited IMO, in cooperation with the UNFCCC, to undertake a study of CO2 emissions from ships for the purpose of establishing the amount and relative percentage of CO2 emissions from ships as part of the global inventory of CO2 emissions.

The MEPC developed operational and technical measures and IMO agreed to include a new chapter on “energy efficiency” in MARPOL Annex VI.

On 15 July 2011, MARPOL Annex VI Parties adopted mandatory energy efficiency regulations for ships – Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) for new ships, Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP) for all ships.

This represented the first set of mandatory energy efficiency measures for any transport sector.

Since their adoption, further amendments have been adopted to strengthen the EEDI requirements, particularly for certain ship types.

In 2016, IMO adopted the mandatory IMO Data Collection System (DCS) for ships to collect and report fuel oil consumption data from ships over 5,000 gt. The first calendar year data collection was completed in 2019.

In April 2018, IMO adopted the Initial Strategy on the reduction of GHG emissions from shipping, a policy framework which sets key ambitions, including annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping by at least half by 2050, compared with their level in 2008, and working towards phasing out GHG emissions from shipping entirely as soon as possible in this century and reducing the carbon intensity of international shipping (to reduce CO2 emissions per transport work), as an average across international shipping, by at least 40% by 2030, pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050, compared to 2008.

The Initial Strategy includes a commitment to assess the impacts on States (particularly Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS)) of any measure proposed for adoption.

The initial GHG Strategy will be revised by 2023.

In June 2021, IMO adopted key short-term measures aimed at cutting the carbon intensity of all ships by at least 40% by 2030, in line with the ambitions set out in the IMO Initial Strategy.

These measures combine technical and operational approaches to improve the energy efficiency of ships. All ships will have to calculate their Energy Efficiency Existing Ship Index (EEXI) and ships over 5,000 gt will establish their annual operational carbon intensity indicator (CII) and CII rating.

In other words, ships will get a rating of their energy efficiency – A, B, C, D, E – where A is the best.

This is the first time IMO has established a formal rating system for ships. This sends a strong signal to the market: Administrations, port authorities and other stakeholders as appropriate, are encouraged to provide incentives to ships rated as A or B. A ship rated D for three consecutive years, or E, is required to submit a corrective action plan, to show how the required index (C or above) would be achieved.

MARPOL Annex VI has 100 Parties, representing 96.65% of world merchant shipping by tonnage.

Implementation support

IMO’s mandatory measures are supported by capacity building, technical assistance and technology cooperation.

Shipping will need new technologies, new fuels and innovation to meet the GHG targets. There needs to be investment in R&D, infrastructure and trials.

A range of IMO-executed projects are focusing on supporting developing countries to implement the MARPOL Annex VI energy efficiency measures and promote trials and training.

Some examples include:

  • The GEF-UNDP-IMO Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Project (GloMEEP) that assisted a number of lead pilot countries to initiate legal, policy and institutional reforms and build the related capacity to start implementing the MARPOL Annex VI at national level.
  • The European Union-funded Global Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre Network (GMN) project has established five regional centers of excellence and several pilot projects are ongoing. One in the Pacific has installed solar panels on a ferry – leading to fuel savings of 32% in operation and 87% reduction in GHG emissions at anchor. Other examples include collecting and analysing ship fuel consumption data; helping to improve ship trim optimization; developing technology needs assessments; and carrying out port energy audits. Data from pilot projects is shared to facilitate scaling up and roll out elsewhere.
  • The Global Industry Alliance (GIA) to Support Low Carbon Shipping has developed a Just‑in-Time guide.  Watch the video animation
  • The GIA has launched a free to access E-Learning course aimed at seafarers and anyone interested in this aspect of shipping. Access the course here:  Course: Introductory Course on Energy Efficient Ship Operation ( self-paced course, ‘An Introduction to Energy Efficient Ship Operation’ is intended as a first glimpse into how GHG emissions from ships can be addressed.
  • The GreenVoyage2050 project has launched a workshop package on ‘Alternative fuels and energy carriers for maritime shipping’ – Download here – Workshop Packages:
  • The GHG SMART project is assisting the Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States in their capacity building efforts through training courses over a four-year period.

Current IMO climate action projects list

  • IMO-Norway GreenVoyage2050 Project
  • Global Industry Alliance (GIA) to Support Low Carbon Shipping
  • IMO-European Union GMN (Global Maritime Network of Maritime Technology Cooperation Centres) project
  • GEF-UNDP-IMO GloFouling Project which addresses the issue of hull fouling that contributes to GHG emissions
  • Global Industry Alliance (GIA) for Marine Biosafety
  • IMO-Republic of Korea GHG-SMART project
  • IMO-EBRD-World Bank FIN-SMART roundtable – co-lead by IMO, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank
  • IMO and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Maritime Zero- and Low-Emission Innovation Forum in September 2021
  • IMO-Germany Asia Maritime Transport Emissions project (known as the Blue Solutions Project) to cut maritime transport emissions in Asia
  • IMO-Singapore NextGEN

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Hariesh Manaadiar
Hariesh Manaadiar
I am Hariesh Manaadiar, the Founder of Shipping and Freight Resource.. I have been in the dynamic shipping and freight industry for over three decades and have worked in several sectors.. I share my experiences and knowledge of the industry through this blog for those looking for help in the industry.. Stay subscribed for more free useful content about shipping, freight, maritime, logistics, supply chain and trade..


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