The COP26 cli­mate-change con­fer­ence that con­clud­ed in Glas­gow pres­ents a chal­lenge for regu­la­tors and ship­ping in­dus­try stake­hold­ers: turn­ing a se­ries of broad­ly worded pro­nounce­ments and tar­gets into con­crete ac­tions.

While ex­perts on ef­forts to de­car­bon­ise ship­ping said the great­er spot­light on the industry at the United Nations cli­mate con­fer­ence was a good thing, they said the event’s ul­ti­mate im­pact will de­pend on the steps tak­en on the road ahead to iron out the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of reach­ing more am­bi­tious tar­gets.

COP26 closed last Sat­ur­day, slight­ly more than a week be­fore the Inter­nat­ional Mari­time Organization’s Mari­time En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Committee (MEPC) was due to meet to dis­cuss de­car­bon­i­sa­tion meas­ures. At the event, most ship­ping in­dus­try stake­hold­ers in Glas­gow ap­peared com­mit­ted, or at least re­signed, to the IMO adopt­ing a goal of net zero by 2050.

Bo Cerup-Si­mon­sen, chief exec­u­tive of the Maersk Mc-Kin­ney Mol­ler Center for Zero Car­bon Ship­ping, said it will take time to de­ter­mine the im­pact of COP26.

But he added that the wide fo­cus on zero-car­bon emis­sions by 2050, rath­er than the IMO’s cur­rent tar­get of a 50% cut by the mid­dle of the cen­tury, will be re­flected in the up­com­ing strat­egy re­vi­sions by the ship­ping regu­la­tor.

Cerup-Si­mon­sen said it was im­por­tant that ship­ping was ac­knowl­edged at high levels in the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­ity like nev­er be­fore, and he said the event served to high­light pri­vate sec­tor first-mov­ers on de­car­bon­i­sa­tion ef­forts.

“Even if this is a lim­it­ed por­tion of the en­tire in­dus­try, these first-mov­er ac­tiv­ities are go­ing to be very pow­er­ful in dem­on­strat­ing that de­car­bon­i­sa­tion of ship­ping is pos­sible, and hope­ful­ly also in in­form­ing and in­spir­ing the shap­ing of glob­al pol­i­cy and reg­u­la­tions,” he said.

“There are some very con­crete de­velop­ments at COP26, which I tru­ly be­lieve will be impactful at MEPC and also in the big­ger pic­ture.”

Guy Platten, the sec­re­tary gen­er­al of the Inter­nat­ional Chamber of Ship­ping (ICS), said COP26 en­abled a plat­form for the in­dus­try to put its case to gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials.

He said that it showed the in­dus­try is com­mit­ted to net-zero car­bon emis­sions, but that there is a need for re­search and de­velop­ment, as well as for mar­ket-based meas­ures such as a car­bon price and to en­sure a “just tran­si­tion”.

Lucy Gil­liam, a sen­ior ship­ping pol­i­cy advisor at non-gov­ern­ment­al or­gan­i­sa­tion Seas at Risk. The group is part of the Clean Ship­ping Coalition. Photo: Twit­ter

Among the ship­ping-fo­cused high­lights of the cli­mate con­fer­ence, the US, UK, Nor­way and others signed a dec­lar­a­tion to push for zero-car­bon emis­sions from ship­ping by 2050.

Also, 19 coun­tries signed the Clyde­bank Dec­lar­a­tion for Clean Ship­ping Cor­ri­dors, aim­ing to es­tab­lish at least six green ship­ping routes by the mid­dle of this dec­ade.

But Platten said there is a need to “op­er­a­tion­al­ise that am­bi­tion” to turn dec­lar­a­tions into re­al­i­ty.

He said now is the time to build on the work of COP26 go­ing for­ward.

“We’ve had a lot of chal­len­ges and dec­lar­a­tions and tar­gets,” he said. “I think we need to get on and do stuff now.”

The MEPC meet­ing that starts on Mon­day will be key to achiev­ing that, as the ICS aims to per­suade mem­ber states to take for­ward its pro­pos­al for a $5bn research and development fund.

Sev­er­al na­tions have asked the com­mit­tee to also take steps to move to­wards the zero-car­bon goal, and while there does not ap­pear to be fun­da­men­tal dis­agree­ment over that tar­get, there are fears that de­veloping na­tions could hold out for fi­nan­cial sup­port from their rich­er peers.

Still, some na­tions that could bear the brunt of the im­pact of cli­mate change are press­ing for ur­gent ac­tion.

Lucy Gil­liam, the sen­ior ship­ping pol­i­cy advisor at non-gov­ern­ment­al or­gan­i­sa­tion (NGO) Seas at Risk, said it was pos­i­tive that cli­mate-vul­ner­a­ble na­tions urged the in­ter­na­tion­al com­mun­ity to fo­cus on keep­ing glob­al warm­ing to a 1.5C in­crease, rath­er than 2C, and the at­ten­tion on mak­ing progress by 2030.

She also wel­comed the dec­lar­a­tions at COP26 call­ing for meas­ures such as green ship­ping cor­ri­dors, but she said they are not enough.

Gil­liam, whose or­gan­i­sa­tion is a mem­ber of the Clean Ship­ping Coalition, said that at the MEPC meet­ing in Nov­em­ber, the group plans to press for the IMO to ramp up the am­bi­tions of its short-term meas­ures, such as en­ergy ef­fi­ciency and car­bon in­ten­sity rules.

And the co­ali­tion of NGOs wants an agree­ment on a switch to dis­til­late fuels in the Arc­tic to re­duce black car­bon emis­sions.

“Great, ship­ping is on the cli­mate agen­da,” she said. “But what I’m not see­ing is the spe­cif­ic ac­tions by the IMO or the in­dus­try to ac­tual­ly re­duce the emis­sions by 2030.”