Freedom to Regulate the High Seas

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How countries can meet their Paris Agreement obligation to reduce the climate impact of international shipping without conflicting with existing international law

The dual legal obligations imposed by the Paris Agreement and the UN Law of the Sea mean that states have a duty to reduce emissions, via national and regional regulation, from international shipping in line with the Paris Agreement temperature goals. This analysis assesses the legality of states regulating international shipping through national and/or regional regulations.

Download the report.

Originally published on Transport & Environment.

Written by Aoife O’Leary, CEO of Opportunity Green on behalf of Transport & Environment
February 2022

Beginning of the report.

“The Paris Agreement obliges countries to reduce emissions in line with the temperature goal of well below 2o C and to aim for only 1.5°C. One source of growing emissions is international shipping. If it were a country, international shipping would be the sixth largest GHG emitter in the world, responsible for more emissions a year than Germany. The Paris Agreement obligation to achieve the temperature goal, includes the emissions from the maritime sector, placing an obligation on countries to act nationally or regionally to reduce these emissions. There are no regulations from the International Maritime Organization that reduce these emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, and while countries can (and should) continue to push for ambitious action in the IMO, they cannot simply wait for the IMO act if they are to meet their international obligations.

“This report draws on analysis of international law to explore the legal implications of action by one state or multiple states outside the IMO on GHGs from the maritime sector. It finds that provided a few important legal and enforcement considerations are respected and built into the design of any policy measure, there are no legal obstacles to national or regional action, indeed, countries are obligated to take such action. If the IMO enacts regulations in line with the Paris Agreement countries could then be relieved of that obligation but countries cannot simply wait for ambitious IMO regulation to appear. The primary obligation for Paris Agreement signatories is to reduce shipping emissions nationally or regionally.”

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