Wanted: An ambitious target to drive investment in clean shipping

If you’ve ever been to a port, you’ve likely been awed by the giant vessels lining the docks. These ships, some capable of carrying hundreds of thousands of tonnes of cargo across oceans, are not only impressive but inherently efficient and capable of significant improvements, if designed to with the newest advancements in naval engineering and technology. However, as the number of ships taking to the seas increases to meet the global demand for cargo, so does the shipping sector’s carbon emissions, which currently represents 2.6% of global emissions, equivalent to the emissions of Germany.[1] Yet the industry remains the only sector without a quantifiable climate emission reduction target and mitigation policy.

That may change this month, when the shipping sector’s global standard setting body, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), will meet to decide an Initial Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Strategy. The IMO has been discussing shipping’s approach to reducing emissions for 20 years, but with increasing international pressure, thanks in part to the signing of the UN Paris Agreement, the IMO has now set a deadline to approve an initial strategy.

As delegates gather on the banks of the Thames and the behind the scenes talks heat up, the expected outcome from the negotiations will be a quantified emission reduction target for a date this century. The policies that will be needed to ensure this target becomes a reality will then be officially discussed. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) urges the IMO to take the opportunity to agree an ambitious target in line with the Paris Agreement’s vision to maintain global temperatures ‘well below 2°C pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels’. This will enable the sector to regain the moral green high ground and significantly reduce the risks posed by climate change, helping, for example, the survival of small island developing states that are at risk from multiple climate change impacts.

An ambitious, but proportionate emissions target

A proportionate and achievable emissions reduction target for the shipping sector, in line with the Paris Agreement would be a 70-100% reduction in greenhouse gases by 2050 from 2008 levels.[2] The technology pathways to deliver this goal are known and the technologies are increasingly becoming commercially available. It is unlikely that one silver bullet technology will be used and this will encourage diversity in the shipping supply chain. For example, battery and solar panel technology from the electric car and renewable energy sectors are already being applied to both short-distance ferries in Norway[3] and cargo ships in China.[4] Alternative fuels are also coming to market including gas, methanol and ammonia[5], which could allow countries such as Brazil to harness their extensive experience in this sector and so benefit.[6] Experience shows that the pairing of ambitious targets with well-designed policies can propel the surprisingly rapid development and deployment of low- and even zero-carbon solutions. For instance, in 2017 the UK propelled to 7th place on the low-carbon electricity league table up from 20th place in 2012[7] thanks to a combination of clear targets, carbon pricing and deployment support policies that gave companies and investors confidence to invest in new technologies. [8]  And as investment has increased costs have tumbled.

We believe that the goal of a 70-100% decarbonisation by 2050 from 2008 is achievable at a reasonable cost. [9]  As seen in other sectors business as usual emissions growth predictions are rarely realised (e.g. energy sector) and should be treated with caution since the pace of change in technology is such that future projections quickly become out of date.

The shipping sector could apply this understanding of policy outcomes to identify how these tried and tested policies may be best adapted to the shipping sector’s own requirements.  For example, an ambitious target, paired with a price on carbon or fuel, could spur innovative zero and low-carbon technologies toward commercialisation. This could be enhanced by using the revenues associated with the policy within the sector through a fund that would support the deployment of low carbon technologies and ships onto the seas.

The shipping sector has shown it is capable of adapting to address environmental challenges and there is none bigger than climate change. With the positive news on stronger enforcements for reducing the sulphur content of shipping fuel, emanating from the IMO earlier this year, the shipping industry has the perfect opportunity this April to continue rebuilding its reputation as the greenest mode of transport. We look forward to an ambitious strategy with defined greenhouse gas emissions targets being agreed.

 

[1] OECD (2018). Decarbonising Maritime Transport: The Case of Sweden. [online] Available at: https://www.itf-oecd.org/sites/default/files/docs/decarbonising-maritime-transport-sweden.pdf [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018].

[2] CO2 Targets, Trajectories and Trends for International Shipping, Smith, T.W.P., Traut, M., Bows-Larkin, A., Anderson, K., McGlade, C. and Wrobel, P. Shipping in Changing Climates Report.

[3] Lambert, F. (2018). A new fleet of all-electric ferries with massive battery packs is going into production. [online] Electrek. Available at: https://electrek.co/2018/03/05/all-electric-ferries-battery-packs/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018]

[4] Business Insider. (2017). China just launched the world's first electric cargo ship. [online] Available at: http://uk.businessinsider.com/china-just-launched-the-worlds-first-electric-cargo-ship-2017-12?r=US&IR=T [Accessed 3 Apr. 2018].

[5] OECD (2018). Decarbonising Maritime Transport: The Case of Sweden. [online] Available at: https://www.itf-oecd.org/sites/default/files/docs/decarbonising-maritime-transport-sweden.pdf [Accessed 14 Mar. 2018]

[6] Climate Home News, Brazil should support ambition in the climate deal of the year. [online] Climate Home News. Available at: http://www.climatechangenews.com/2018/03/07/brazil-support-ambition-climate-deal-year/ [Accessed 3 Apr. 2018].

[7] Ambrose, J. (2017). Carbon tax thrusts Britain towards the top of low carbon energy league table. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/11/15/carbon-tax-thrusts-britain-towards-top-low-carbon-energy-league/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].

[8] Ambrose, J. (2017). Carbon tax thrusts Britain towards the top of low carbon energy league table. [online] The Telegraph. Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/11/15/carbon-tax-thrusts-britain-towards-top-low-carbon-energy-league/ [Accessed 22 Mar. 2018].

[9] CO2 Targets, Trajectories and Trends for International Shipping, Smith, T.W.P., Traut, M., Bows-Larkin, A., Anderson, K., McGlade, C. and Wrobel, P. Shipping in Changing Climates Report.

 

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