More from the industry - an important story needs some space!
The good news is that – although shipping carries 90% of the world’s trade and 95% of UK trade – it contributes, as the Stern Report shows, only 1.4% of mankind’s CO2 emissions. To base a challenge to Stern’s findings on one leaked report from a tanker shipping association (as recent articles in the Time and the Independent have done) is risky and could leave the public seriously misinformed. This is but one estimate amongst many “confidential” submissions to the UN international body that regulates the industry – the London based International Maritime Organisation.
Moreover, press reports which mix statistics and assessment of emissions of air pollutants (such as sulphur and nitrogen oxides, which have an essentially local impact) with those of CO2 (which has a global impact) confuse even more and are doubly deceptive because, while we support initiatives to reduce air pollutants such as SOx and NOx, these may have a negative effect on CO2. The proposal to move all ships to distillate fuels, for instance, would increase CO2 emissions at the refinery by about 15%. What’s more, such a policy would dramatically increase the world’s consumption of the declining remaining oil stocks. The volume of diesel able to be refined from a barrel of oil is fixed – use more diesel and you use more barrels of oil. And, given the volume of fuel consumed by shipping (more diesel would need to be produced annually than is currently consumed in the entire EU) this could have the knock-on effect of dumping massive amounts of other oil products – kerosene, jet fuel and petrol – on the market. The price of these fuels could go down, encouraging consumption and hence increasing carbon emissions…
A major EU-funded study* has shown that shipping actually has an overall global cooling effect. Currently other emissions more than balance the global warming effects of the world fleet’s CO2 emissions. This is not a cause for celebration as these other emissions, most notably sulphur and nitrogen oxides, can be damaging to health if released near to land. However, regulations to reduce these pollutants – CO2 cannot accurately be described as a pollutant since it is a clean and naturally occurring major part of the air around us – in the established risk areas of the Baltic and North Sea came into force in August this year. This is why the global industry has consistently called, through the International Chamber of Shipping, for a holistic approach to the reduction of ships’ air emissions, which should seek to balance the competing pressures in the interest of finding the greenest practical solution across the piece.
What else are shipowners doing? Newer ships with optimal hull designs and the latest propeller technologies lower carbon emissions significantly. New paints that keep the hulls free from drag caused by barnacles and other sea life offer efficiencies in the order of 10%. The latest application of weather prediction technologies allows a ship’s Master to take better account of adverse weather – a straight line through a storm is not always the most carbon-efficient route!
Better ship-handling techniques, waste heat recovery and reductions in onboard power usage can also all make a difference. Other developments, such as powering ships from shore-based power when they are in port, can also play a role – so long as that shore-based power source is more carbon-friendly than the ships’ own engines!
There is certainly no prospect in sight of any other form of transport coming anywhere near as low in carbon emissions as shipping. The growth of shipping as an alternative to any other mode of transport will continue to offer significant savings in greenhouse gas emissions – such growth offers a potent answer to the global warming effects of the transport of goods. But are absolute emissions a suitable measure for individual sectors? And what does “absolute” mean?
The industry accepts that the level of mankind’s total emissions is the key. It is reflected in the simple overall targets set by the EU of a 20% reduction by 2020, and by the UK’s Climate Change Bill of up to 32% by the same date and 60% by 2050. But many constructive environmentalist groups acknowledge equally that it is perfectly legitimate that, within an overall emissions envelope, emissions reductions in some sectors may be smaller or even go up if that can produce greater savings in output from less carbon efficient alternatives.
The industry has a further concern – the presumption that new technologies will come on stream to meet the demands of legislation as the cost of non-compliance outweighs the costs of investment in research and development. History shows that such assumptions don’t work particularly well in shipping. Take the issue of Ballast Water, where a convention that enters into force in 2009 will be simply unenforceable because the technology that was assumed to be imminent has not yet come on line.
Drivers that may hold true for land-based industries are not present in our industry for two main reasons; first, government-sponsored research into improving shipping efficiencies is virtually non-existent – and this is an area where government intervention would be beneficial. Secondly, in the present climate, the relationship between ship-owners and ship-builders is weighted in the latter’s favour. Owners specifying specific environmental benefits for their ships often face a heavy financial penalty – if they can get their ships built at all. For these reasons we are investigating the merits of calling upon the IMO to require the inclusion of a ship’s carbon performance in the development of new goal-based standards and for all future IMO legislation to include an analysis of its likely carbon impact.
Finally, a more holistic approach to the problem of climate change – looking for the best overall ways to reduce mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions, rather than a piecemeal industry-by-industry or activity-by-activity approach, should not stop at a comparison of transport modes. In this new era we need to look at overall priorities and how to achieve them for the least impact.
A good example of this is the food miles debate. We couldn’t sustain the British population without importing food, but, if we could, would that be better in terms of greenhouse gas emissions? If we focus only on the emissions from transporting food from farm to shop it would seem so – but this is not the only factor to consider. In June this year the government announced that it was working on a carbon calculator that manufacturers and retailers could use to label products with their full carbon footprint. This too is a complex issue, but one thing is increasingly clear – many imported products are responsible for lower total carbon dioxide emissions than the same foods produced in the UK. The low carbon footprint of shipping is significant in making this possible, allowing the relative carbon efficiency of some types of farming – for example African farming that uses little mechanised equipment, or just growing crops in season rather than in heated polytunnels – to be the main influence.
Of course we cannot know what further improvements technology will make possible over the years to come. But with the cost of fuel somewhere around one-quarter of operating costs, shipping has a very real commercial incentive to continue to optimise consumption and thus further reduce its carbon emissions.
The industry is prepared to meet its responsibilities in this challenge. In the UK, we are happy to see some form of rational global measurement or performance standard for a ship’s carbon output, perhaps in some post-Kyoto agreement. We are also committed to delivering reductions in relative emissions, to continuous improvement in the design and performance standards of new ships, and to the success of the IMO’s greenhouse gas indexing trials. We believe that, not only is a global solution the most likely to be achievable and enforceable in practice, but it is also the solution most likely to yield the most significant environmental benefits.
For this reason, it will be important for governments, both individually and in their regional groupings, to press the International Maritime Organisation to move faster and further in developing a significant carbon regime in shipping-related activity. Those states who are uncertain of the value of or are resisting progress in this area need to face up to the global challenge and to join in the endeavour to develop an agreed policy which will encourage all involved in shipping to act responsibly and swiftly.