Is shipping heading in the right direction?

Climate change is high on the agenda for most countries as they look to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly over the coming years. The shipping industry is currently one of the biggest polluters but it is responding to the need for lower carbon emissions and, ultimately, green fleets. We speak to experts leading the quest for new fuel sources that are not only less damaging to the environment but also protect hauliers’ profits.

The shipping industry is facing growing pressure to curb its CO2 emissions. The industry produces approximately 2.6% of all carbon emissions and carries more than 80% of goods traded globally. 

If the shipping industry were a country, it would be the world’s sixth-highest emitter, ahead of Germany. 

US President Joe Biden’s climate change envoy John Kerry has expressed a commitment to ensuring that International Maritime Organisation member countries hit the net-zero emissions  targets by 2050. There have also been recent calls within the shipping industry for  a carbon tax, which would give companies an incentive to invest in greener technologies and there could be further announcements for shipping in the build-up to the next UN climate change conference, COP26, at the end of the year. 

After the 2015 Paris climate change agreement left it to individual nations to cut the environmental impact of their shipping the industry must now make up for lost time. 

Slashing the shipping industry’s carbon footprint will require a multitude of solutions. While electric batteries are already starting to play their part for ships on shorter routes, advances in clean fuels are required for larger vessels such as cargo ships and tankers travelling long distances.  

However, there is some debate as to which fuel has the most potential, with candidates including ammonia, biofuels, hydrogen, and methanol. If a wide variety of green fuels are developed and put on the market, this potentially risks hauliers arriving at ports that may not have what they need to refuel. 

“The real challenge with those fuels is that it’s very difficult for a whole industry to decide on one flavour and it’s not happening fast enough. It can’t happen fast enough, because of the vast infrastructure,” says Diane Gilpin, CEO of Smart Green Shipping (SGS). “It’s going to take a long time. And I think that that’s a real worry in terms of emissions, because they’re still rising from shipping.” 

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