Ships moved more than 11 billion tonnes of our stuff around the globe last year, and it’s killing the climate. This week is a chance to change



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Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

The shipping of goods around the world keeps economies going. But it comes at an enormous environmental cost – producing more CO₂ than the aviation industry. This problem should be getting urgent international attention and action, but it’s not.

This week, all 174 member states of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) will discuss a plan to meet an emissions reduction target. But the target falls far short of what’s needed, and the plan to get there is also weak.

As other industries clean up their act, shipping’s share of the global emissions total will only increase. New fuels and ship design, and even technology such as mechanical sails, may go some way to decarbonising the industry – but it won’t be enough.

It’s high time the international shipping industry radically curbed its emissions. The industry must set a net-zero target for 2050 and a realistic plan to meet it.

Cargo ships waiting offshore with plane wing in foreground
The shipping industry accounts for more carbon emissions than aviation.
Shutterstock

Shipping: by the numbers

Globally, more than 50,000 merchant ships ship about 11 billion tonnes of goods a year. In 2019 they covered nearly 60 trillion tonne-miles, which refers to transporting one tonne of goods over a nautical mile.

Per tonne-mile, carbon dioxide emissions from shipping are among the lowest of all freight transport options. But in 2018, shipping still emitted 1,060 million tonnes of CO₂ – 2.89% of global emissions. By comparison, the aviation industry contributed 918 million tonnes of CO₂, or 2.4% of the total.

And as international trade increases and other sectors decarbonise, global shipping is expected to contribute around 17% of human-caused emissions by 2050.

An emissions pariah

The IMO, which regulates the global shipping industry, did not set meaningful emissions reduction targets until April 2018. This is despite being requested to reduce emissions as far back as 1997 under the Kyoto Protocol.

The IMO has pledged to halve shipping emissions between 2008 and 2050 while aiming for full decarbonisation. By 2030, the carbon intensity (or emissions per tonne-mile) of individual ships should fall by 40%, compared with 2008 levels.

The IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee, is devising binding rules for the industry to achieve these emissions goals. Draft measures being considered this week focus solely on reducing the carbon intensity of individual ships. The plan has been slammed by critics because emissions reductions are not in line with Paris Agreement commitments of limiting global warming to 1.5℃ or 2℃ by 2100.




Read more:
The shipping sector is finally on board in the fight against climate change


There are two main issues with the 40% emissions intensity target.

First, it’s not ambitious enough. Research suggests limiting warming to 1.5℃ requires the shipping industry to reach net-zero emissions. Merely reducing the carbon intensity of ships will barely make a dent in current emissions. Worse, even the best-case scenario will likely lead to a 14% emissions increase compared to 2008.

Second, the IMO has yet to say how it will meet its targets. The plan up for discussion this week is weak: not least because it lacks enforcement mechanisms.

Exterior of IMO building
The IMO dragged its feet on setting an emissions target for the industry.
Shutterstock

So how do we fix the problem?

Earlier this year, I sailed on the Avontuur. This 100-year-old two-masted schooner under German flag sailed from Germany to the Caribbean and Mexico to load 65 tonnes of coffee and cacao, then ship it under sail to Hamburg.

The round-trip took more than six months and 15 crew members. Roughly 169 million ships like the Avontuur would be needed to transport the 11 billion tonnes of goods moved by sea each year. It would require 2.5 billion crew, compared with 1.5 million today. Clearly, that is not realistic.

So how, then, do we solve the international shipping problem? Clean transport advocates say we must reduce demand for cargo transport by using what’s locally available, and generally consuming less and moving to a post-growth economy.




Read more:
Plain sailing: how traditional methods could deliver zero-emission shipping


Some scientists concur, arguing either carbon intensity or shipping demand must come down – and probably both.

Ships can significantly reduce their emissions simply by slowing down. Carbon emissions increase exponentially when ships travel above cruising speed. But the industry seems unwilling to pick this low-hanging fruit, perhaps because it would compromise just-in-time supply chains.

Ships commonly burn huge amounts of heavy fuel oil. Emerging fuels, such as hydrogen and ammonia, have the potential to cut emissions from ships. But producing these fuels may create substantial emissions, and adopting new fuels would require building new ships or retrofitting existing ones.

Existing vessels can also be retrofitted with more efficient propulsion mechanisms. They could also be fitted with wind-assist technologies such as sails, rotors, kites, and suction wings. Research suggests these technologies could reduce a ship’s emissions by 10–60%.

And new designs for sail-powered cargo vessels are emerging. But these ships are yet to be built and it may be a long time before they are widely used.

An artist impression of the Neoline sail-powered cargo ship.
Sail-powered cargo vessels can help slash global emissions.
Neoline

Looking ahead

Technological solutions on their own will not bring the necessary emissions reductions. New technologies must be embraced immediately, and ambitious regulation is necessary. Industry and consumer demand for shipped goods must fall as well.

Earth’s remaining carbon budget is fast shrinking and all industry sectors must do their fair share. At this point in the climate crisis, further delays and weak targets are inexcusable.The Conversation

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Senior Lecturer, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Plain sailing: how traditional methods could deliver zero-emission shipping



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The Avontuur recently completed a sail-powered transatlantic cargo voyage.
Timbercoast

Christiaan De Beukelaer, University of Melbourne

On May 10, the 43.5-metre schooner Avontuur arrived in the port of Hamburg. This traditional sailing vessel, built in 1920, transported some 70 tonnes of coffee, cacao and rum across the Atlantic. The shipping company Timbercoast, which owns and operates Avontuur, says it aims to prove that sailing ships can offer an environmentally sustainable alternative to the heavily polluting shipping industry, despite being widely seen as a technology of yesteryear.




Read more:
The urgency of curbing pollution from ships, explained


Similar initiatives exist across the world. In the Netherlands, Fairtransport operates two vessels on European and transatlantic routes. In France, Transoceanic Wind Transport sails multiple vessels across the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean, and along European coasts. The US-based vessel Kwai serves islands in the Pacific. And Sail Cargo, based in Costa Rica, is building Ceiba, a zero-emission cargo sailing ship.

Transporting cargo by sail is both a practical response to climate change and a contribution to a larger debate.

These initiatives have an environmental objective: transporting cargo without generating greenhouse gas emissions. But are they really a viable alternative to today’s huge fossil-fuelled maritime cargo transport industry?

Shipping emission targets?

On April 13, 2018, the International Maritime Organization, the United Nations body that regulates shipping, agreed for the first time to limit the sector’s greenhouse emissions. It’s targeting a 50% reduction by 2050 (relative to 2008 levels), with the aim to phase out emissions entirely.

This was a breakthrough, given that both the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement exclude international shipping (and international aviation) from emissions targets, because these are so hard to attribute to individual countries.

Conventional seaborne cargo transport is relatively energy-efficient. It emits less greenhouse gas per tonne-kilometre (one tonne of goods transported over one kilometre) than transport by train, truck or plane. But because 80-90% of all goods we consume are transported by sea, the total emissions of the shipping industry are immense.

According to figures from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), shipping accounts for 2-3% of global emissions – outstripping the 2% share generated by civil aviation.

As the global demand for goods increases, so does the need for shipping. As a result, the IMO has projected that the sector’s greenhouse emissions will grow by anything between 50% and 250% between 2012 and 2050, despite improvements in fuel composition and efficiency. More worryingly, a commentary on that report in Nature Climate Change warns that “none of the anticipated shipping scenarios even approach what is necessary for the sector to make its ‘fair and proportionate’ contribution to avoiding 2℃ of warming”.

A recent report commissioned by the European Parliament raises further alarm bells, underscoring the fact that the sector’s huge growth is likely to swamp any carbon savings that come from improved operations. On top of this, the significant progress made in other industries means that the relative share of greenhouse gas emissions from cargo shipping is likely to increase from the current 2-3% to 17% by 2050.

Yo ho ho, shipping rum the old-fashioned way aboard the Aventuur.
Timbercoast

Zero-emission vessels?

The OECD International Transport Forum is less pessimistic. It projects a 23% increase in the sector’s emissions between 2015 and 2035 on current trends, but also argues that it will be possible to decarbonise maritime transport altogether by 2035, through the “maximum deployment of currently known technologies”.

These emissions-reducing propulsion technologies include kites, solar electricity, and advanced sail technology. Some of them, such as Flettner rotors, are already in use. But these will not be scaled up and become viable unless there is strict regulation, even if some shipping companies have taken steps to reduce their emissions ahead of a binding IMO target. Electricity-propelled container barges operate in Belgium and the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, the IMO faced a tricky balancing act in juggling the priorities of different countries. Climate-vulnerable nations such as the Marshall Islands want shipping emissions to be cut entirely by 2035. The European Union has proposed a reduction of 70-100% by 2050, while emerging economies such as Brazil, Saudi Arabia and India have argued against any emissions target at all. Despite these differences, the IMO did agree on a 50% reduction target by 2050 in April 2018.

Sail cargo

It took Avontuur 126 days to sail from France to Honduras, Mexico, Cuba and home to Germany. But conventional container ships can cross the Atlantic in about a week. Avontuur was carrying more than 70 tonnes of cargo on arrival in Germany. But many cargo vessels now carry more than 20,000 standard shipping containers (TEU), each weighing more than 2 tonnes and able to hold more than 20 tonnes of cargo.

Given the relatively small capacity of sailing ships, it is expensive and labour-intensive to ship cargo this way. But despite these limitations, support for sail cargo initiatives is growing. A consortium of small North Sea ports, for example, will “create sail cargo hubs in small ports and harbours, giving local businesses direct access to ethically transported goods”.

Ceiba, a new sailing vessel builds on traditional skills and incorporates new technologies to help attain global carbon emission targets.

These initiatives signal the revival of sail cargo with an explicit environmental agenda, although this effort is dwarfed by the scale of the global shipping industry. But while they don’t stack up in logistical terms, these voyages can help us see the possibilities for a world without fossil fuels. Sail cargo aims to rethink not only the means of propulsion for cargo vessels, but the entire scale, economy and ethics of cargo transport.

Traditional sailing vessels like Avontuur will not be able to compete with conventional cargo vessels on speed, scale or cost. But they help us focus on the underlying issue. We ship too much, too often and too far. The scale of shipping is unsustainable. That is why we need a change of mindset as much as a change of technology.

The ConversationSail cargo initiatives raise awareness about the devastating environmental effects of conventional cargo shipping. And they do so by showing that an alternative is possible. Indeed, it has been around for thousands of years.

Christiaan De Beukelaer, Lecturer in Cultural Policy, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Sea Shepherd: Founder Arrested


The link below is to an article reporting on the arrest of Paul Watson, founder of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, for ‘violation of ships traffic’ some ten years ago.

For more visit:
http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/antiwhaling-activist-arrested-for-ramming-boat-10-years-ago-7746817.html