28 abril 2021

Challenges for a cleaner world: the emission of greenhouse gas in maritime transport

By Milena Barbosa de Melo


Doctor, Master, and specialist in International Law by the University of Coimbra – Portugal; Professor at the State University of Paraíba; Director of the National Agency of Studies for the Right to Development (“Agência Nacional de Estudos em Direito ao Desenvolvimento); CEO of Creative Modulus (“Modular Criativo”)


The phenomenon of globalization is an instrument that completely modified humanity’s life, since it enabled the unification of a demographically diversified world. In this sense, the contact with new cultures, economies, places, and politics became quite common, in a way that directly impacted the circulation of trade and people in the world.


Therefore, the usage of sea transport to support commercial demands has increased significantly, making it responsible for a great portion of the global economy, as can be seen in a recent UNCTAD report.[1]


The environment suffers the consequences of this large-scale usage when it comes to the growth in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, which has increased 9,6% between the years 2012 and 2018, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO).[2]


The IMO also highlighted that due to the difficulties brought by the pandemic, the numbers referring to GHG emissions are expected to fall, thanks to the decreased circulation of means of transport. However, at the time of large-scale resumption, by the year 2050 we would have a 150% increase of greenhouse gases released into nature.[3]


It is believed that the reduction in GHG emissions from maritime transport due to the Covid-19 pandemic is an invitation to the entire international community to reflect on the change in attitude when it comes to the proposals presented by IMO and deserve urgency.[4]


Therefore, knowing the urgency of the problem, the IMO invites countries to make every effort to significantly reduce the emission of GHG emissions by 2050, since the damage could be irreversible. [5]


Thus, the concern of the IMO becomes evident since, after 4 studies carried out on the values ​​of GHG that are released into the atmosphere, a significant increase has been identified and, if nothing is done, the damage may be irreversible. [6]


As such, the IMO becomes an important instrument to help preserve nature and seek a clean world, which is why it has been working repeatedly to reduce the volume of GHGs emitted by vessels.


As an important instrument, the IMO invites the maritime community (countries) and companies to apply measures aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases. These are, thus, integrative measures, meaning they are related to all the subjects of international law, including the very individual.[7]


Among the measures presented by the IMO which must be adopted by member countries, the following stand out: vessels must have energy efficiency indexes, including a system capable of indicating carbon intensity; and the   implementation of an energy efficiency maintenance plan on vessels which comprises the need to implement the energy efficiency classification plan. [8]


It is noteworthy that some of the measures can be burdensome to ports and companies, but the health of the environment is what must be taken into consideration. As such, any action that favors the reduction of atmospheric pollution should be welcome.


In this case, there is nothing to be considered, as the environment needs urgent measures to make GHG reduction as possible. The environment cries out for the application of the periculum in mora and fumu boni iuris regarding the measures presented by the IMO, and, because they deal with something vital to human development, they should be considered as hard law measures.


Any action contrary to environmental protection must be the object of a measure that seeks legal responsibility. What can no longer be allowed is the absence of effective measures that make our world cleaner.


[1] UNCTAD. Sustainable freight transport in support of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Available at:

[2] IMO. Marine Environment. Available at:

[3] IMO. Informal discussions focus on lifecycle GHG/carbon intensity of cleaner fuels for shipping. Available at:


[4] ibid.

[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.

[7] IMO. Informal discussions focus on lifecycle GHG/carbon intensity of cleaner fuels for shipping. Available at:

[8] IMO. Informal discussions focus on lifecycle GHG/carbon intensity of cleaner fuels for shipping. Available at:

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