International Maritime Organization members states have agreed to consider establishing a research and development (R&D) body to work toward zero-carbon emission technology for ships.

The idea was tabled by a group of shipowner associations at the IMO's Marine Environment Protection Committee meeting, which ended on Friday.

The proposal involves the establishment of an IMO-administered International Maritime Research and Development Board (IMRDB), which would be funded from a $2 per tonne levy on marine fuel.

The proposal’s sponsors estimate the idea will generate around $5bn for R&D into zero-emission ships.

The International Chamber of Shipping’s deputy secretary general, Simon Bennett, said the proposal received support although many IMO member states also had concerns about governance and oversight.

Importance of R&D

“Just about every government that spoke highlighted the critical importance of R&D, and a large number of governments, probably representing the majority of the world’s tonnage, supported the concept of an IMO supervised fund, financed by industry. But there are many other states at the IMO who we still need to persuade and we’ll work hard to address their legitimate questions,” Bennett said.

Backing for the idea comes shortly after the IMO agreed a package of measures to achieve its short-term goal of reducing the carbon intensity of the shipping industry by 40% by 2030.

Fresh discussions

The shipping regulatory body is now set to embark on fresh discussions on the next target to halve shipping’s total carbon emissions by 2050. It is widely acknowledged that goal will require the use of alternative fuels and advanced low emission technology.

Bennett said: “We recognise the unprecedented nature of our proposal, but unless the IMO is willing to take forward the industry’s offer of $5bn to accelerate R&D within the IMO regulatory framework, it’s really difficult to see how the industry can make IMO’s 2050 target. We need speed and scale to meet the climate crisis.”

The proposal's backers are the International Chamber of Shipping, Bimco, Intercargo, Intertanko, Interferry, the International Parcel Tankers Association, the World Shipping Council and the Cruise Lines International Association.