In 2015, the United Nations met in Paris to settle on an agreement for making changes that will affect carbon emissions. The measures were adopted over concerns about climate change and, while the majority of industries were affected by the new regulations, the shipping industry was not included. Instead, the International Maritime Organization was expected to follow suit and establish its own set of rules to comply with the restriction on carbon emissions.

Following the Paris agreement, Kitack Lim, the IMO secretary-general, vowed that the shipping industry would comply with the accord, but little has been done to follow through with those plans. As a result, the IMO has been the target of public criticism, as many accuse Lim of moving too slowly. If the International Maritime Organization doesn’t act soon, other powers, such as the European Union, may institute their own laws that will force the shipping industry’s compliance.

Concern over the shipping industry’s compliance comes as a result of studies that reveal the industry plays a significant part in contributing to carbon emissions. From 2007 through 2012, the shipping industry was responsible for 3.1% of the total CO2, or carbon dioxide, emissions. Unchecked by new regulations, those emissions are expected to rise significantly by 2050. The increased shipping needs brought about by a broader global economy are expected to cause an increase in emissions of anywhere from 50% to 250% within the next 32 years.

The Debate Over Emissions

It’s not quite as simple as putting a new set of protocols into place. World governments still haven’t been able to agree on what the emission goals should be, leaving the IMO in a tight spot. The European Union, along with Japan, China, and many other Asian nations, are pushing for drastic reductions in the hopes that it will avert a climate change crisis. Meanwhile, the United States leads the opposition with support from Saudi Arabia, Argentina, and Brazil in asking for more reasonable limitations.

The problem is that the changes could cost the shipping industry billions in a relatively short time. Even for modest businesses, that kind of loss may be enough to force them out of business altogether. In addition, there are already measures underway to cut sulfur emissions, which will cost shipping companies $40 billion collectively.

While there’s no denying that carbon emissions must be reduced, it’s a complex matter that must address the financial burdens, as well. If a moderate method cannot be established, the shipping industry will face a drastic culling, changing the face of the industry forever. However, if the IMO doesn’t act soon, the EU may make the decision for them and we will be left with the realization of these fears.