UN: Shipping Industry Needs a ‘New Propulsion Revolution’ for Zero-Emission Future
If emissions from the maritime industry are not cut, we are headed for “an environmental disaster”, Isabelle Durant, the deputy head of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), told the Global Maritime Forum summit on October 30, 2019.
Durant’s views were echoed by the UN’s International Shipping Organization (IMO), whose spokesperson, Lee Adamson, pointed out that current levels of emissions from shipping are “not acceptable”, and that the industry needs a “new propulsion revolution”, to completely cut emissions from the sector.
According to the IMO, shipping will be essential to the UN’s vision for sustainable development, providing a dependable, energy-efficient and low-cost way to transport more than 80 percent of the world’s trade.
Nevertheless, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by the sector are significant and, according to the World Bank, the sector has not kept pace with other forms of transport, when it comes to climate action. The World Bank estimates that a single large shipping vessel, produces as much sulphur as 50 million cars.
At around 800 million tonnes per year, the industry as a whole is responsible for approximately 2.2 percent of all global emissions.
Speaking at a plenary panel on the importance of drastically reducing maritime emissions, Durant said that the maritime industry is heavily reliant on a form of liquid fuel that has a high carbon footprint. Global seaborne trade is expected to double over the next twenty years, which means that it is imperative to make sure ships are powered in a way that is much more sustainable. This is why the UN is leading a number of projects aimed at significantly cutting emissions and, eventually, phasing them out altogether.
“In 2018, IMO Member States adopted an initial strategy for cutting GHG emissions from shipping and phasing them out entirely, as soon as possible. There’s a specific linkage to the Paris Agreement on climate change, and clear levels of ambition – including at least a 50 per cent cut in emissions from the sector by 2050, compared to 2008,” Adamson explained.
He added that, given the expected rise in trade and transport, ships currently at sea will have to cut their emissions by some 80 percent and, by 2030, newly-built ships will need to be completely emission-free.
“The strategy is expected to drive a new propulsion revolution. There is a need to make zero-carbon ships commercially more attractive, and to direct investments towards innovative sustainable technologies, and alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels.”
A number of options are currently being explored by the shipping industry. These include battery-powered and hybrid ferries, ships trialing biofuels or hydrogen fuel cells, and wind-assisted propulsion.
Norwegian ferry company Color Line, for example, has built the world’s largest plug-in hybrid ship, capable of carrying 2,000 passengers and 500 cars between the towns of Strømstad, Sweden, and Sandefjord, Norway.
The battery pack on the vessel gives it up to 60 minutes maneuvering and sailing at speeds of up to 12 knots, which means that the last leg of the two-and-a-half-hour trip, through the fjord that leads to Sandefjord harbor, is emission-free.
Norway is also the home of Brødrene Aa, a constructor of highly efficient carbon fibre ferries, which, they say, can reduce fuel consumption by up to 40 percent compared to traditional vessels. The company has developed a concept vessel that runs entirely on batteries and hydrogen, anticipating a future in which zero-emissions ferries are the norm.
Partnership for progress
Despite these encouraging signs that a zero-emission future for shipping is possible, action needs to take much faster if the UN’s goals are to be achieved, Adamson warned.
Although investments in low or zero-emission shipping may mean higher costs, business as usual, according to the IMO spokesperson, is not an option.
“The status quo is not acceptable because of the impact of ship emissions, not just to address climate change, but also on human health and the environment, and that has its own cost which is also borne by society,” Adamson said.
“The principle of ‘polluter pays’ is well established, and it has to be recognized that shipping is a polluter, in spite of its cost-effectiveness, and somehow that needs to be mitigated.”