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Clean Shipping: A Utopia?

Posted 23.07.2019
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The year is 2050. A breakthrough in fuel cell technology has led to zero-emission marine propulsion in all small-medium vessels, whilst larger cargo and cruise ships are deploying wind powered sails to cut greenhouse gas, SOx and NOx emissions. Despite previous scepticism, the implementation of IMO2020 resulted in an unprecedented demand for green technologies, sparking investment in new clean innovations such as sustainable biofuels, blue hydrogen, wind and hybrid power. Heavy Sulphur Fuel Oil is remembered by those in the industry as a dirty and shameful relic of the past. An increase in autonomous and remote technology has revolutionised the maritime industry, not only leading to more efficient and cleaner shipping, but also a decrease in shipping-related accidents. Through collaboration, incentivised regulation and digitalisation, the shipping industry has paved the way for a reduction in carbon emissions, surpassing the IMO’s previous target of a 50% reduction of emissions by 2050 (based on 2008 levels).

The year is not however 2050 and the landscape painted, although not inconceivable, is utopic. With 90% of the world’s trade currently transported by sea, the cruise industry marked as the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel marketand the shipping industry currently contributing to over 3% of the worlds global GHG emissions, it would be naïve to think that complete decarbonisation would be simple. From reluctance within the industry to change, to a no ‘one size fits all’ solution, high initial costs and a lack of collaboration between ports, governments and shipowners, the challenges faced by the shipping industry are well acknowledged and at times, overwhelming.

One could however argue that change is unavoidable. With the UK’s 2050 zero carbon emission targets now including shipping, the introduction of financial incentives, such as the Poseidon Principles and leading shipowners, like Maersk, committing to independent emission targets, the way in which the shipping industry, governmental bodies and the global economy, prioritise green initiatives is changing. Furthermore, from a technological perspective, and as evidenced through design concepts such as Japanese shipping major, NYK’s zero emission Super Eco Ship 2059 concept and STX Europe’s Eoseas Cruise ship, the technical possibilities for clean and sustainable vessels appear viable and in some cases existing.

For example, voyage optimisation solutions, such as NAPA Fleet Intelligence, works to reduce emissions through planning the most economically and environmentally viable route and can be applied across a majority of vessels currently in operation. Likewise, upcoming Swedish company, XShore, recently put their first 0% emission/100% electrical craft to market. A drive for sustainable energy and an increase in regulation and financial backing has led to an influx in renewable energy alternatives designed to cut fuel consumption. Green tech company Norsepower’s Rotor Sails technology uses the Magnus Effect to harness the power of the wind, resulting in an average of 5-20% lower fuel consumption. We can only imagine the overall reduction to emissions if we were to apply all existing green technologies to the world’s fleet. The question that therefore remains is not will the decarbonisation of the shipping industry happen, but who will lead that change?

Like it or not, environmental initiatives will become intrinsic to all future business strategies, which is why it is imperative for those in the shipping industry to mark themselves as pioneering in such sustainable developments. One could also argue that feeding into the greater global narrative of limiting the irreversible effects of global warmingto well below 2°C offers opportunity for those within the shipping industry to be relatable, visible and influential beyond that of their usual audiences. If we are to draw on Unilever’s recent report, showing that Sustainable Living Brands are driving three quarters of growth, JUST capitals survey which found sustainable companies are set to outperform competition, and look at the top coverage from recent events such as Nor-Shipping, an increase in discourse around climate change is set to impact brand value, reputability and profitability. The detrimental impact of failing to understand the influence of climate change and sustainability is well evidenced through Carnival Cruise’s recent environmental scandal, which bled into mainstream publications and cost the cruise operator a lot more than a $20 million fine.

Key players in the shipping industry need to be shouting about all environmental wins, no matter how big or small. Along with financial incentives, industry collaboration and a move towards digitalisation, proactive PR and communications will also play an important role in propelling the change the shipping industry - and the planet - needs to reach a clean utopia.

By Georgia Bailey

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