Go Back

Decarbonizing the Shipping Industry: the Role of the IMO

Sofar Ocean

As world leaders meet to take stock of decarbonization commitments at COP27, the maritime shipping industry — which produces nearly 3% of global annual CO₂ emissions — is sure to come under scrutiny once again.

Lowering the carbon emissions of the maritime shipping industry is complicated by the fact that there are many stakeholders with competing interests, and no single authority regulating commerce at sea. The body in charge of decarbonization in maritime shipping is the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO). In 2018, the IMO set a goal to cut the maritime shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050.

Reaching this goal requires swift action and coordination between governments, private parties, and environmental stakeholders, as well as innovations in shipping technology. Let's explore how the IMO is overseeing this monumental task, and how decarbonization in the shipping industry has progressed under its watch.

Background: What is the IMO?

The IMO governs the safety, security, and environmental performance of international shipping. Its stated mandate is to, “cover all aspects of international shipping – including ship design, construction, equipment, manning, operation, and disposal – to ensure that this vital sector remains safe, environmentally sound, energy-efficient and secure.”

The IMO is made up of 175 Member States and three Associate Members, as well as intergovernmental organizations (IGOs) and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Often, members of the shipping industry play an active role in IMO meetings. 

“Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers, and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations,” wrote the New York Times.

Critics of the IMO point out that it doesn’t have legislative power. Like the rest of the United Nations, the IMO was established to recommend legislation, rather than implement it. It is up to governments around the world to codify a particular action that the IMO endorses. Nonetheless, the IMO provides the shipping sector and governments with important, concrete goals to rally around, which help move forward measures focused on carbon neutral shipping.

What are the IMO's goals for decarbonizing the shipping industry?

The IMO set a goal to cut the maritime shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least half by 2050. To accomplish this ambitious goal, the IMO produced two measures aimed at reducing emissions: the Energy Efficiency Design Index (EEDI) and the Ship Energy Efficiency Management Plan (SEEMP).

The EEDI applies to new ships and requires a minimum energy efficiency level based on a ship’s capacity; essentially, it mandates the use of more energy-efficient equipment and engines. The EEDI sets forth minimum energy efficiency levels for different ship types and sizes. It applies to tankers, bulk carriers, gas carriers, container ships, general cargo ships, and other vessels. 

Notably, the EEDI is a non-prescriptive, performance-based mechanism. Companies in the shipping industry can decide what technologies and materials they use to reach the minimum standards set by the EEDI.

The SEEMP is a plan provided by a shipping company that details how it will improve the energy efficiency of a vessel in a cost-effective manner. The SEEMP includes two key components — the Energy Efficiency Operational Indicator (EEOI) and the Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII) — that help the IMO assess an operator’s commitment to fuel system decarbonization.

The EEOI measures the fuel efficiency of a ship. This baseline helps determine whether any future changes, such as the addition of a new propeller, improved voyage planning, or new ship technology, have an impact on a ship’s fuel efficiency.

The CII measures how efficiently a ship operates, expressed in terms of “grams of CO₂ emitted per cargo-carrying capacity and nautical mile.” To learn more about CII, check out our deep dive on the critical metric.

[Read more: Everything You Need To Know About The Carbon Intensity Indicator (CII)]   

The SEEMP of every vessel must include the following key information

  • How the shipping company monitors and calculates the vessel’s Attained Annual Operational CII
  • The Required Annual Operational CII over a three-year period
  • A description of how the Required Annual Operational CII target will be achieved over the next three years with continuous improvement, shared in the form of an implementation plan
  • A plan for the ship’s continued self-evaluation and improvement

The future of decarbonization in the shipping industry

There are many approaches that the shipping industry can take to prioritize decarbonization, chief among them the investment in new technologies.

For example, voyage guidance tools like Sofar's Wayfinder provide operators and Captains with the most optimal path to port for a vessel. Wayfinder continuously delivers the most efficient and least weather-restricted speed, RPM, and waypoint recommendations to fleets. The platform:

  • Is powered by Sofar’s global network of ocean sensors, which produce highly accurate weather forecasts and inform detailed Vessel Performance Models
  • Incorporates a vessel’s specific emissions, fuel cost, time cost, safety, and/or charter party constraints 

By presetting fuel consumption constraints, operators can prioritize routes that burn less fuel and optimize for the lowest emissions output possible. This helps make sustainable voyages and significant fuel cost savings a reality.

Interested in learning more about Wayfinder and the future of decarbonization in the shipping industry? Schedule a demo with our team.

To access additional blog posts, visit our blog.

Sofar in the News

Deep sea thinking
Access insights from Sofar's team of ocean scientists to power your next deployment, voyage, or operation. Subscribe to our blog.

Related Stories