Climate Change and the Impact of Shipping

The following is an article published by the The National Maritime Domain Awareness Coordination Office (NMCO) to the Maritime Domain Awareness website.  NMCO is a multi-agency office created to coordinate efforts to achieve the situational awareness aspect of Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) among U.S. federal, state, and local agencies, tribal authorities, other nations, and the maritime industry in support of the U.S. National Plan to Achieve Maritime Domain Awareness.

According to conventional studies, shipping accounts for 2.7 per cent of global greenhouse emissions or a maximum of 400 m tons of CO2 per year. By comparison, the aviation industry, which has been under heavy pressure to clean up, is responsible for about 650 m tons of CO2 emissions a year. Now a leaked study indicates that the true green house gas emissions from shipping may be almost three times higher than previously believed. If accurate, the annual emissions from the world’s merchant fleet have already reached 1.12bn tonnes of CO2, or nearly 4.5% of all global emissions of the main greenhouse gas. Whether the study is accurate or not, to avoid dangerous climate change, which is associated with a 2°C temperature rise, many reports stress the urgent need for the shipping industry to start process of greenhouse gas emission reductions. Pressure is now expected to increase on ship owners to switch to better fuels and on the EU to include shipping in its emission trading scheme. Previous attempts by the industry to calculate levels of carbon emissions were largely based on the quantity of low grade fuel bought by ship owners instead of on the more accurately known engine sizes of the world’s ships and sea transit times and fuel grades sold to ship owners which the new report reflects.

17 Dec 2007, two fast-growing German companies worked together to develop high-tech kite systems to pull commercial ships across oceans — and save enormous amounts of money. The 132 meter (433 ft) long MV “Beluga SkySails” made its maiden voyage in 2008 across the Atlantic to Venezuela, up to Boston and back to Europe, pulled by a giant computer-guided 500,000-euro kite tethered to a 15-metre high mast. It may be a throwback to an earlier maritime age, seen as primitive and unpredictable, but in the age of climate change, wind power is making a comeback married with modern technology. Using the higher wind velocities above the 160 sq meter 300 meters high for up to a 20% or more fuel savings per day supplementing diesel engines and reduce CO2 emissions. SkySails inventor Stephan Wrage and German engineers endeavors are but one of many alternative energy strategy envisioned for a green shipping. While some political and industry leaders complain about the financial burdens of fighting climate change and cite costs in resisting CO2 reduction efforts, Wrage said SkySails is proof that the opposite can be true: there’s money to be made.

Fast forward, April 2011 The IMO returned to work on the issue of reducing greenhouse gas emissions through a working group of the Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) reviewed ten submissions from national governments involving either bunker fuel levy or emissions trading solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions but an earlier stage of GHG reduction reforms to increase ship energy efficiency have been averted from mandatory application The European Union says it will act to regulate emissions from international shipping by the end of 2011 if the IMO cannot make substantial progress. The European Commission set out in April a transport strategy to the year 2050 which contains a number of goals aimed at a more efficient and sustainable transport system across all modes. Among other things, the strategy calls for a shift of travel and freight from road to rail and waterways, and the reduction of CO2 emissions from maritime bunker fuels in the EU by 40 to 50 per cent by 2050 compared to 2005 levels. A tall order if maritime transport is to be expanded during this time. The next MEPC session in July promises to deliver concrete emission reductions, carbon trade pricing, revenues for climate-change mitigation, and capacity building activities in developing countries as well as incentives for technological and operational improvements in shipping. One impediment was the resistance of developing nations against across the board flag-neutral emission cuts which would be the same for all.

The EU appears isolated in its calls for targets as the US rejected mention of bunkers at and countries such as China, India and Saudi Arabia, argued that debates on market-based measures should be put on hold until a new climate agreement is struck. The EU has said that it will act on its own if neither the IMO nor international climate negotiations succeed in curbing emissions from ships. It has already decided to add aviation to its emissions trading scheme from 2012.

Shipping, once considered one of the most carbon friendly modes of transport, is now regarded as a growing threat in the battle against climate change, some recent reports indicate. In terms of tonnes kilometres shipped, [shipping] is the most efficient mode of transport, however if the sector grows by the predicted 150-250% this will could become problematic according to some experts. If other industrial sectors continue to reduce emissions and shipping doesn’t then the shipping proportion of green house gasses will steadily increase. This will need to be addressed. There does however appear to be a consensus that by 2020 through a combination of technical and operational initiatives, the industry should be able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions per tonne / km by some 15-20%.

The International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) launched a web site: Shipping and CO2 which illustrates the industry’s commitment to reducing global CO2 emissions. Some ship owning associations subscribe to the idea of using a trading scheme, whilst others consider a levy on the fuel used by ships to be a more effective way of alleviating the effects of climate change.

Enter “launched to much acclaim in Cancun, – the beta data-hub that hosts CO2 ratings for over 60,000 ships – attracted 30,000 unique visitors in its first month, and already has more than 2,000 registered users. The site targets ship owners, operators, charterers, ports, insurance companies, shipbrokers and other stakeholders, and aims to enable the shipping industry to factor efficiency information into business decisions through an easy-to-use, vessel-by-vessel ‘energy labeling’ system.” As written by Ms. Catherine McMillan of the site and associated with the Carbon War Room.

Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room, a non-profit organization that harnesses the power of entrepreneurs to implement market-driven solutions to climate change is hosting the 2011 Creating Climate Wealth Summit series tracks this opportunity to create economic growth, entrepreneurial wealth, well paid jobs, and make billion ton (gigaton) carbon reductions.

The Carbon War Room is supportive of the premise that investing $1.3 trillion each year in green sectors would deliver long-term stability in the global economy as a new UN report has suggested. Spending about 2 percent of global GDP in 10 key areas could kick-start a global low carbon, resource efficient green economy. Since the oil crises of the 1970s, billions of dollars have been pumped into technology development in the areas of energy efficiency, low carbon energy, efficient transportation, bio-fuels, and other areas. This investment has led to hundreds of breakthroughs that are today cost effective. Yet, full commercial utilization of these innovations and their financial rewards still elude us.

The North America Summit kicks off the series on May 3-4 with the Creating Climate Wealth Summit in Washington, DC – an invitation only event – providing a unique workshop-driven convening of executives, investors, entrepreneurs, and leaders from the private and public sector. The purpose is to identify specific US pathways to accelerate deployment of green solutions.