April 15, 2018 - When the European Union readied its Emissions Trading System a decade ago, the idea was to include sea and air transport in the scheme – for all ships and planes entering EU territory. But after an outcry from non-EU countries, Brussels said it would back off as long as the international organizations overseeing sea and air transport came up with a global climate solution.
Experts say that shipping emissions need to be reduced by at least 70 percent by that time to meet the headline goal of the Paris Agreement – limiting global temperature rise to no more than 1.5°C by 2050.
After years of contentious talks, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) finally agreed this week to reign in emissions from shipping. After a tense two weeks of negotiations that went down to the wire, 170 countries agreed on Friday to halve shipping emissions by 2050, compared to 2008.
However the IMO failed to clearly spell out how it will reach this goal, leaving environmentalists frustrated with the outcome. Though some specific measures were on the table, they were opposed by a group of countries led by Brazil, Panama, Saudi Arabia and the United States.
Bill Hemmings, shipping director at the campaign group Transport & Environment, says that even though this week’s agreement is lacking in short-term measures, the headline goal is going to translate to real obligations for the shipping industry. “This decision puts shipping on a promising track,” he says. “It has now officially bought into the concept of decarbonization and the need to deliver in-sector emission reductions, which is central to fulfilling the Paris agreement.”
Guy Platten, CEO of the UK Chamber of Shipping, agrees. “Crucially this should be seen as a stepping stone towards decarbonisation in the long term – something which must be continue to be a major focus in the years ahead,” he says.
More than 80 percent of global trade is moved by maritime shipping, so the potential for the industry to combat climate change is significant. Platten said he believes the target is enough to give a signal to the industry that they need to make significant investments in research and development.
“The shipping industry has already made great strides,” he says. “Battery-powered ferries operate in Scotland, Scandinavia and elsewhere. Huge investment has gone in to better hydrodynamics, more efficient engines and lower carbon fuels.”
“But make no mistake, these marginal gains alone are not enough to meet the 50% target, and certainly will not be enough meet the public’s expectations of a more fully decarbonized industry,” he adds
In order to meet the target, most new ships built in the 2030s will have to run on zero carbon renewable fuels. Tristan Smith with the University College of London Energy Institute believes that the target is likely to tighten further. “But even with the lowest level of ambition, the shipping industry will require rapid technological changes to produce zero-emission ships, moving from fossil fuels, to a combination of electricity (batteries), renewable fuels derived from hydrogen, and potentially bioenergy.”
“While such changes are massive for a global industry, which has a fleet of over 50,000 ships trading internationally, UK-led research has shown that with the correct level of investment and better regulation, these reductions can be achieved.”
While 2050 may seem like a long way away, shipping industry watchers say the signal sent by this week’s agreement is likely to result in significant technological changes in the medium-term.
Maureen Malia, BDP's Sustainability Manager, offered the following as it relates to the IMO agreement: The recent announcement about the IMO making a commitment to lower emissions is a step in the right direction for the global transportation industry as a whole.
This new emissions plan will seek to create a more level playing field for the industry, and while it may not be as ambitious a plan as expected, it shows that the IMO is committed to joining other governing bodies, following the Paris agreements.