Setting a course towards a low-carbon shipping sector

low-carbon shipping sector

The maritime transportation sector’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are increasingly coming under the spotlight. For instance, new regulations in Europe require shippers to monitor and report their emissions from 2018 onwards. CO2 emissions from shipping activities are very substantial – around 1000 million tonnes of CO2 per year globally – equivalent to roughly 2.5% of total global GHG emissions. Alarmingly, however, shipping-related GHG emissions are forecast to increase by between 50% and 250% by 2050. That level of emissions growth is simply incompatible with the transition to a low-carbon economy and efforts to avert catastrophic climate change.

The good news is that both technical and operational solutions exist today that allow ships’ CO2 emissions and energy consumption to be reduced by up to 75%. These solutions would also provide shipping companies with additional benefits, including operating cost savings and being attractive to a larger customer base.


Towards an emissions control regulatory framework for shipping

The shipping sectors of both Europe and other regions have not been incorporated into their respective regional carbon trading systems. Consequently, shipping firms are not regulated under such systems and do not need to purchase emissions permits to cover their GHG emissions. However, it seems increasingly likely that the sector will be incorporated into emissions trading systems in coming years, or, at the very least, that increasingly-stringent emissions limits will be placed on the sector (either by governments or the sector governing authorities). One way or another, the shipping sector will come under increasing pressure to stabilise, and then reduce, its GHG emissions.

The first step for any shipping firm in reducing its GHG emissions is to understand exactly how much it emits across its operations. This means monitoring the GHG emissions of its fleet, something that can be done in a straightforward and accurate way, using data on the distances travelled, journey times, types of fuels consumed, ship engine characteristics, etc. In fact, this is precisely what all large ships (over 5000 gross tonnes loading/unloading cargo and/or passengers) in European waters will be legally-obliged to do from 1 January 2018 onwards. In other words, from the beginning of next year, all large shippers in Europe need to have a comprehensive carbon emission footprint monitoring system implemented and operational. From 2019 onwards, those same shipping firms will need to annually submit, to the European Commission, a satisfactorily-verified emissions report for each ship it operated in European waters during the preceding year.


The benefits for a shipper from monitoring its emissions

In the case of large shippers in European waters, the need to operate carbon emissions footprint systems is now legally-binding, and it is possible that other regions will soon implement similar requirements. However, aside from complying with legislation (and avoiding fines for non-compliance), there are numerous benefits available to shipping firms from implementing GHG emissions monitoring systems. This includes having a solid basis for analysing the potential benefits of using different operational approaches and technologies in the same monitored ships; and, of course, monitoring the actual GHGs emitted following operational and technical improvement measures.

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Numerous ways to measure emissions

Numerous GHG emissions footprint monitoring methodologies exist. The most basic approaches make use of average emission factors of fuels and engine technologies, and use simple calculations to estimate a ship or fleets’ emissions. Such approaches are straightforward to implement and, on the whole, are accurate. Nevertheless, it is also possible to install (whether as a standalone, or a backup support, monitoring system) emissions sensing technologies. These technologies measure actual emissions in real-time at specific locations on a ship. They provide a greater degree of accuracy (compared to methodologies which use average emissions factors and estimates) in understanding a ship’s actual emissions, and have low capital and operating costs.


Making the most of the transition

BlacktoGreen has a strong track record in undertaking GHG emissions footprint analyses for clients in various sectors. It is well-placed to help shipping firms make the smooth and ordered transition to low-carbon operations, while, at the same time, reducing their operating costs and creating potential new revenue streams. An important determinant of shipping companies’ success in capitalising on the low-carbon transition is to engage with it from any early stage.

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