There is a lot to think about when it comes to reducing carbon emissions from shipping, as a roundtable at COP24 proved
This week sees the conclusion of the 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP24) in the Polish city of Katowice — a meeting held over a number of days that aims to finalise the practical implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Given that the International Council on Clean Transportation has found that international shipping would be the planet’s sixth-biggest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitter if treated as a nation, according to an April article, it is unsurprising that shipping found itself under the spotlight at the event.
In a cross-cutting roundtable discussion on oceans, coastal zones and transport focused on ports’ part in decarbonising the maritime transport industry, there was plenty of discussion on decarbonisation concerning shipping. It was noted at the roundtable that an International Transport Forum (ITF) report on decarbonising maritime, covering pathways for zero-carbon shipping by 2035, had identified three main intervention and change areas.
“The first is changes in technological measures, the second is changes in operational improvement and the third is alternative fuels,” Wei-Shiuen Ng, ITF transport analyst and modeller, explained.
Scale of the task
Lucy Gilliam, Aviation and Shipping officer at Transport & Environment (T&E), called for “immediate actions” for shipping in light of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report arguing that only 12 years remain to make unprecedented and huge global energy infrastructure alterations to keep global warming at moderate levels.
We need things that can happen fast and that can happen now
“We need to be reducing those emissions fast, and that means that we need to be thinking about not just the things that we have in process like more-efficient ships, because while that’s a short-term decision, we won’t realise that until the medium or the long-term because it’s about newbuild ships, so we need things that can happen fast and that can happen now,” she said.
Ms Gilliam called for thinking about other measures in terms of operations to slow vessels down as well as about how to incentivise zero-emission ships needed to meet the International Maritime Organization’s (IMO) 2050 target of reducing greenhouse gases by at least 50% by 2050, with a strong emphasis on decreasing to 100% by this date if it can be shown to be possible.
“If we’re going to make that target, … within the next 10 years, we need large, zero-emission vessels entering the fleet,” she said.
Regarding fuels, Ms Gilliam said that research from T&E, and from other consultants for T&E, has shown that reductions of 25% or 30% from LNG are “not the case” and it is being observed that methane slip from engines and the supply chain is “far higher” than what others are saying.
“I would say that actually, LNG is a dead end. It’s a waste of public money. Let’s make sure we’re really investing in those clean fuels. … We’ve seen some really negative impacts from biofuels. It’s really important where the biofuels are from and what their feedstock are, and actually, with many biofuels, you don’t get any greenhouse gas savings overall, and what we would say is: ‘Yes, there are sustainable biofuels, but do we really want to put them in ships? Aren’t there other parts of transport that have a greater need for hydrocarbons because they have no other ways to decarbonise? We have alternatives in shipping, so if we’re going to invest in fuels, let’s invest in the ones that the other transport modes like aviation can’t use, like hydrogen and batteries.’”
Discussing the most important short-term and long-term imperatives connected to maritime transport activity and climate change in relation to IMO 2050, Claes Berglund, public affairs and sustainability director for Stena Line in Sweden, said: “In the short-term, it’s efficiency of ships and efficiency of operations. I mean, basically, that is what we can work on. In the long-term, it’s fuel: what should we run the vessels on? That is the big question and we need more research and development for that, and that should start now.”
New vessels are not needed when it comes to decarbonisation, he noted.
“When we do these developments, at least in our company, … we usually take an old ship and convert it into something else. So we don’t need new ships — we actually need new technologies. That’s enough.”
Carlos Pascual, IHS Markit senior vice president, made a point during the discussion about how the IMO’s 2020 sulphur cap “could really create a sea-change in the way that we handle environmental issues in waterborne transit”. Noting that waterborne shipping had gone up by 3.5 times in the period 2000 to 2016 and is forecast to increase another 2.6 times for the next 15 years, he said:
“To get that 50% reduction in CO2 emissions, it’s actually going to take an 85% increase in efficiency, which is enormous, and it gives us a sense of scale of how big the job is in front of us. … 3.5% to 0.5%, some areas 0.1% — that may not seem huge, but in terms of the refining industry, of the products it has to be produced, it’s a total and absolute change, and on the part of the shipping industry, it’s a complete change in the equipment that’s going to be necessary, and the two are trying to figure out how to meet up together to make supply and demand actually work.”
Maersk’s carbon pledge
While COP24 was underway, shipping giant Maersk announced its aim to obtain carbon neutrality by 2050, noting that to get to this scenario, carbon-neutral vessels need to be commercially-viable by 2030, new innovations have to be accelerated and new technology needs to be adapted. According to Pacific Standard, with the organisation holding a share of the container shipping market of almost 20%, its efforts could help put a dent in the sector’s total emissions rapidly — the IMO’s head of air pollution and energy efficiency, Edmund Hughes, said that the company still emits something like 36m tonnes of CO2 annually.
There is scepticism about Maersk’s objective. Bill Hemmings, T&E Aviation and Shipping director, told Pacific Standard that a similar aviation pledge was made by the International Air Transport Association just prior to the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Denmark and yet concrete details about how to deliver have still not been revealed. However, at the roundtable, Mr Pascual noted how targets can offer results. With the IMO’s Energy Efficiency Design Index and shipping energy efficiency plan, with the goals of around 10% for 2024 and 30% for 2025 to 2030, “some impacts that can make a difference” were already beginning to be observed, he said.
“From 2008 to 2015, the CO2 emission levels decreased by 16% despite a 20% increase in the tonne mile travelled, the carbon intensity — which is the CO2 per tonne mile — improved by 34%, the newbuild efficiency in container ships improved 58%. … So in effect, what we’re starting to see is that those standards make a difference. They have an impact on the way the industry is reacting and how governments are reacting as well.”
Regardless of all the talk, with emissions from shipping linked in reports to some 400,000 premature deaths annually, and asthma cases numbering in the millions, the industry’s drive to clean up cannot come soon enough.
The Baltic Exchange’s next Shipping Economics & Investment course will be held on January 14 and 15 in London. More information can be found here.