World shipping faces the challenging task of working more collaboratively, pragmatically and with innovation to slash ship-generated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The key question is how can the International Maritime Organisation’s MEPC 72, the ‘Paris agreement for shipping,’ promote this collaboration among competitors, bound by a common purpose to provide solutions to reduce the harmful effects of GHGs from ships on the global community?
In April this year, the 72nd session of the IMO Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 72) convened in London and was attended by more than100 member States.
Members grappled with a number of key environmental issues for the global shipping industry, from biofouling to marine litter, but the primary focus was on the adoption of the initial strategy for ship-generated GHG emissions reduction.
One of the major outcomes was the agreement by both developing and developed nations to reduce emissions by at least 50 per cent over 2008 levels, by 2050.
The initial strategy is seen “as a point on a pathway of CO2 emissions reduction consistent with the Paris agreement temperature goals”, according to the Levels of Ambition document.
The resulting strategy was not without conflict, however, with some member countries arguing the goal was too low. Others maintained it was too aggressive.
The Pacific countries such as the Marshall Islands, as well as the European Union, were looking for reductions in the 70 per cent to 100 per cent range.
On the other side of the spectrum, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Argentina and Brazil voiced their objections to the 50 per cent level, Safety4Sea reports.
However contentious the discussion, the goal has been determined.
The atmosphere is at risk ‘above the zone’ and the shipping industry, regional and global regulators, and governments are joining forces to make a difference, working toward accomplishing a noble cause.
Peter Hinchliffe, secretary general for the principal international trade association for merchant shipowners and operators, the International Chamber of Shipping, lauded the agreement.
“This is a ground-breaking agreement – a Paris agreement for shipping – that sets a very high level of ambition for the future reduction of CO2 emissions,” Mr Hinchliffe said.
“We are confident this will give the shipping industry the clear signal it needs to get on with the job of developing zero CO2 fuels.”
What remains to be seen is how the global maritime community will respond to these benchmarks, and what efforts individual stakeholders will take.
Mark Simmonds, policy manager at the British Ports Association, says his country’s efforts must be implemented “in a pragmatic and sensible manner, ensuring that any resulting costs should not threaten shipping routes or make older ships unviable.
“It is important that we get this right but at the same time remember that moving freight by sea is still by far the most environmentally friendly way to facilitate global trade – as well as ensuring our economy continues to function and our food and energy supplies are secure,” Mr Simmonds wrote on the association’s website.
He goes on to urge for collaboration between industry and government.
While such a collaboration is essential for the maritime industry to meet these goals, collaboration must be between countries, not just within them.
Success will require the participation and partnership of the entire international shipping community.
Meeting current GHG targets has been challenging, with mixed results and sometimes unintended effects.
The only way to achieve the more aggressive 50 per cent reduction by 2050 set before the global maritime industry is through a worldwide effort.
‘Decarbonisation’ will call for significant changes in international shipping, all of which have an international impact.
For instance, ‘slow steaming’ — limiting a vessel’s speed to reduce fuel consumption — could also be used to reduce emissions.
While cutting speed is predicted to have a positive impact on emissions, writes Ed Martin in TankerShipping.com, the worldwide tanker fleet would need to grow as much as an estimated 29 per cent to maintain shipping capacity.
In addition, more slower ships will have effects on ports.
Malcolm Latarche argued that “although the total volume of cargo may not alter, the unproductive time taken in moving in the port and numbers of tugs needed will increase”.
An alternative fuel, such as LNG, is also a viable option.
“This will require appropriate input from the technical organisations in shipping as well as other bodies,” Mr Latarche wrote in ShipInsight.
“More importantly, the equipment and system makers will need to develop suitable products and be sure of a large enough market to invest in the R&D needed.”
Again, cooperation across borders will be required in order to address fuel availability, as well as to educate shipyards and other parties as to how to build or convert engines to LNG — a move that may also require financial assistance or backing.
The current state of GHG emissions from the shipping industry is one that was created jointly.
It’s appropriate then, that an international joint response is required to effectively meet the aggressive targets before us.