Maersk, Cargill back faster shipping emissions cuts

Global fleet should be improving fuel efficiency 20% a decade says coalition of 15 companies, urging UN regulator to set targets

(Flickr/Derell Licht)

International shipping has a carbon footprint equivalent to Germany (Flickr/Derell Licht)

By Megan Darby

The global shipping fleet should be cutting its fuel use 20% a decade, according to a coalition of 15 business leaders.

At present, the rate of improvement for new ships is less than 10% and there is no regulatory incentive to upgrade existing carriers.

Maersk Line, China Navigation Company and commodities giant Cargill are among the members of the Sustainable Shipping Initiative.

Laying out their 2040 vision for the sector this week, they foresee global rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions from the sector.

“It doesn’t matter how you cut it, shipping needs to reduce its emissions considerably,” the initiative’s Alastair Fischbacher told Climate Home.

The sector is not explicitly covered by the international climate pact struck in Paris last December. It is left to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to regulate emissions from seaborne trade.

UN shipping chief: Climate change is ‘top priority’

A year ago, members of the London-based IMO dismissed calls to set a target for the sector. But with newly appointed chief Kitack Lim describing climate change as “top priority”, the debate is expected to resurface at next month’s environmental committee meeting.

“Last year, it was felt by many people that the IMO missed the point,” said Fischbacher. “By delaying again and not taking action, it was actually making the task harder next time.”

There are barriers to greening the maritime industry. Often, the operator of a ship pays the fuel bills, but does not control its design – that falls to the owner.

Low oil prices have lengthened the payback period for investment in fuel-saving kit. In any case, the impacts can be hard to measure, as many other factors affect a ship’s fuel use, like ocean currents or the route taken.

But there are ways to make vessels run cleaner, from streamlining the hull to harnessing wind power. In the medium term, biofuels and electric propulsion could become viable alternatives.

“It is achievable, we just have to work very hard for it,” said Fischbacher.

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