All hands on deck for tackling climate change in the shipping industry?
Hailed by some as humanity’s best last chance to avoid the worst effects of climate change, the United Nations COP26 conference was one for industries and individuals all around the world to take note of. The conference convened over 30,000 delegates from nearly 200 nations, faith institutions, and interest groups, coming together and fleshing out commitments to tackling climate change. This week, Thetius Technology Analyst Lauren Brunton reviews the results from COP26 and asks, what do they mean for shipping?
Given that the pivotal focus of the event is to find political consensus aimed at preventing further global temperature rises and boosting climate related finance to support tectonic changes at a global level, COP 26 is as high-profile as global politics comes.
The first United Nations climate change conference took place in 1994 and was conceived to work towards the stabilisation of greenhouse gases (GHG) and reducing the impact of the negative effects that climate change brings. The reality is that science had been pleading with the ruling classes for such urgent action at least a decade prior, but asking competing nations to accord on simple matters is often difficult, let alone the degree of root and branch reforms called for by such a global catastrophe.
The 26th gathering that we have just witnessed is reportedly seen by many as the most significant climate change focused event that has taken place since the 2015 Paris agreement. Expert witnesses have hailed this a crucial moment, as they have been for many decades, but evidence for catastrophic climate change is now undeniably calling for increasingly time-sensitive action.
COP 26 has resulted in a mass of proposals for change and new environmentally driven targets that try to square off the chance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees by halving global emissions by 2030. The overarching aim derived from this event is for ‘net zero’ to be reached by 2050. We have seen nations and delegates involved propose a vast range of ways in which they plan to do this. For the shipping industry, the message is one of change.
Despite being the largest ton-mile transport sector, moving an overwhelming majority of the world’s goods, the relative proportion of global emissions contributed by shipping is low. Notwithstanding this, a report published by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) last year highlighted that the ‘share of shipping emissions in global anthropogenic activity has risen from 2.76% in 2012 to 2.89% in 2018’ (International Maritime Organisation, 2021). This may overall be a small percentage of a large scale figure, however, the upward trends that have been observed with these figures are heading in the wrong direction. Importantly, it does not in any way detract from the steps the industry believes it needs to start making in consciously tackling decarbonisation.
The ‘Clydebank declaration’ is one of the more prominent outputs that we have seen following the conference. Due to a heightened emphasis on efforts in limiting the global average temperature increases, signatories from 22 countries have pledged to act. This declaration will see these countries support the establishment of zero emission maritime routes between two ports, to be known as green corridors. They are aiming for at least six of these corridors to be implemented by the middle of this decade, as well as aspiring to see even more established by 2030. This implementation will take place in major ports where zero-emissions solutions, and fuels have been demonstrated and are acting as a testbed for emerging technology too. The ports and routes for these plans have not yet been announced however they are tipped to be chosen based on their potential to scale and accelerate zero emissions in shipping.
Intertwined with these proposed corridors there has also been interesting discussions on the use of alternative fuels and the proposed increase in availability to create a surge in usage. These green corridors offer potential means for alleviating alternative fuel concerns, by offering dedicated ports within these major shipping lanes that supply green fuels. In August, Maersk entered an agreement that will see them build and operate eight dual-fuel vessels by 2025. For these vessels to have the desired impact the supply of alternative green fuels in ports is imperative.
The accessibility and attractiveness of the use of green fuels are both areas that require further attention. Whether this increase in attractiveness for usage stems from proposed fuel levies or an increase in alternative fuel production remains to be seen. However, there are certainly potential drivers for this change. More than 50 Climate Vulnerable Forum countries (CVF) have called for the prioritisation of a carbon tax levy for the industry. On top of this key industry players such as Shell and Norsk Hydro recently signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly produce and supply hydrogen produced from renewable energy.
COP 26 has been an informative if not yet transformative event for the industry, not only will we see the creation of green corridors and upscaling of alternative fuels, but the efforts required in other areas have been well illuminated too. With the preliminary findings of a study focusing on the impact of ships biofouling on GHG being launched during this 26th session. It was revealed that historically the impact of biofouling has been underestimated industry wide. It has now been suggested that keeping ships hulls free from a layer of slime as thin as 0.5mm can reduce its emissions by 25%.
These findings, along with other notable announcements that were presented during COP 26 has potentially seen the shipping industry become one of the more positively impacted industries, compared to others that were addressed. The realisation of the ways the shipping industry is unsustainable and contributing to global issues has been further highlighted. Efforts can now be focused on the ways in which not only decarbonisation but climate change as a whole can be tackled. Collaborative approaches, the use of emerging technologies and the planned trajectories are all within reach and attainable if the industry as a whole takes action.