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Emissions from shipping are a significant driver of human-induced climate change. International action to date has not succeeded in setting those emissions on a sustainable trajectory. The International Maritime Organization has committed to implementing an effective, international approach to tackle international shipping’s contribution to climate change.

This paper considers international law principles, exploring whether and how these principles may provide a basis for the IMO to address those contributions. The polluter pays principle, which counsels that whoever produces pollution should cover the costs their pollution imposes on others, is a doctrine of international law that offers strong support for the IMO to adopt a market-based mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Other principles of international law provide that any market-based mechanism the IMO adopts should be consistent with international climate agreements, responsive to the different contributions that nations and companies have made to the climate problem, built on the best available science while resolving any uncertainties in favor of less risk to the environment, and respectful of universally-recognized rights – both individual and national – to equity, life, and fair treatment.


Environmental Law | International Law | Law


Sabin Center for Climate Change Law