Editorial / 27 Mar 2022

Carbon action calls on the will of the many

by Greg Newbold, Guest Contributor

How do we combine the many voices in shipping so they crystalise into a focused beam of action on carbon? Our first steps are encouraging but much more will be needed.

Ships burn about 300 million metric tons of fossil fuels each year and contribute 3% to global carbon emissions (equivalent to 1billion tons of CO2). That’s the starting point for the maritime sector’s various decarbonising initiatives. The goal is a 50% carbon emissions reduction by 2050 and a 40% reduction by 2030. There’s a long way to go.

Incentives and prods
Full coffers following record recent results have put shipowners into the market for leaner, cleaner versions of their liners, bulkers, feeders, tankers and so on. Shipbuilding orderbooks are full almost everywhere.

The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) has capped fuel sulfur content at no more than 0.5% - a massive improvement from the previous limit of 3.5%, and the industry average of 2.%.

Private interests are doing their bit. Take the Danish Maritime Cluster’s ‘Green Ship of the Future’ programme which contains a recipe book of tested concepts for cutting the carbon load. These innovations can become design features in newbuilds or be retrofitted to existing fleet.

After LNG?
LNG is looking like the transition fuel of choice for a growing number of shipowners. Many newbuilds and conversions confirm this trend. LNG releases 25% less CO2 than heavy fuel oil but it is far from carbon-zero.

A big challenge is finding zero-carbon fuels that can be implemented on a large scale. Hydrogen and ammonia are currently the front runners but there is much complex engineering still required to overcome the technical challenges – and much debate on the economic feasibility of hydrogen particularly.

Stuck in admin
One of the biggest barriers holding back shipping’s decarbonisation efforts is purely bureaucratic. Sir Humphrey Appleby would be pleased.

It’s a question of how the IMO and its members decide which country is allocated emissions. The registration of a ship, its origins, the destination of the cargo, or where the ship’s fuel is sold - if we were to consider just these factors, it would provide drastically different emission responsibilities for each country.

Each nation has its own interests and carbon targets, and these factors have made it a challenge for the IMO and more than 170 member states to ensure that targets are being met.

What will probably happen

  • Tighter targets: Most likely the targets will get harder and stricter. In 2023, the IMO will review the current industry target of 50% carbon reduction by 2050. The push is on.
  • More help: The urgency of the climate situation will spur both government and private efforts to decarbonise our vessels, so expect more help, more communal, open-source solutions, more tax breaks, etc to accelerate the drive to Carbon Zero.
  • A Carbon Tax: This is inevitable. It is in partial use, led by the EU, and will slowly become global. Economists argue the tax is the fairest means of allocating carbon costs and influencing behaviour. It is becoming feasible to implement in shipping as we improve our allocations of voyage emissions more accurately.
  • The Other Stuff: Cleaner hulls, sleeker coatings, wind and solar– these are the carbon savers that can be done to a single vessel or a whole fleet. They are the sensible necessities that will lower carbon emissions one ship at a time. They’ll become commonplace quickly.

Anyone keeping an eye on the weather will note that extreme events are coming harder, faster and more often. This tells us we are no longer trying to solve the problem of climate change. Instead, we are now firmly embarked on limiting the damage.

In the case of shipping, we are both strengthened and weakened by the many sectional voices supporting different interests. The benefits of argument and debate are many but are outweighed right now by the pressing need for speed. Thus, the IMO is probably the best forum for tackling our global challenges. But the many voices in shipping must each decide separately that ‘the IMO is the way to go’. When that happens, it will release a lot of focused energy. Put simply, we can do much good if we all get behind the IMO and push.

25 Jan22 Ports tackle sustainability with these green initiatives Photo

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