UN agency ‘slows down decarbonization of global shipping’, says industry expert
The United Nations agency responsible for regulating global shipping is slowing the decarbonization of the industry, according to one of the world’s leading experts on reducing maritime emissions.
Tristan Smith, the architect and naval engineer who arguably studied the science of decarbonizing shipping the most deeply, recounts Reload sister post TradeWinds, that the International Maritime Organization (IMO) “always has the impression of denying the extent of [climate] challenge”.
The IMO has pledged to reduce carbon emissions from shipping by 40% by 2030 and 50% by 2050 (from 2008 levels) – although the world needs to achieve net emissions to zero by mid-century to meet Paris Agreement targets.
“We can see that the IMO has failed to come close to what is needed both in its debates on short-term policy measures and in its general expression of the direction it is taking on gas. Greenhouse effect. [GHG] agenda, ”Smith told TradeWinds.
This, he says, creates a headache for financiers, shareholders, charterers and maritime industry stakeholders who are trying to define their own commercial decarbonization strategies.
The private sector evolves much faster than regulators, but “it is difficult for them to adopt [any] a decarbonization strategy rapidly evolving towards zero carbon fuels, because the business case remains elusive in the absence of any clear political driver, ”says Smith.
“The awareness is there, but the material to act on is not, so it’s a risky moment to make decisions. I have great sympathy for those who are trying to run transport companies at the moment. “
Smith – who is an energy and maritime transport reader at University College London and worked on the IMO’s fourth GHG study in 2020 – says that even if transport succeeded in reducing its 40% carbon intensity by 2030, global emissions would be higher than in 2008. due to industry growth.
According to Smith, it comes down to shipping saying, ‘Give us a break, we’ve got to have emissions up for another decade,’ just when much of the rest of the world is saying it’s serious and we must continue with drastic cuts. “
He adds: “There are governments at IMO that want to decarbonize at a rate compatible with climate science at 1.5 ° C, but most do not at this stage, and this prevents the IMO from take the actions that we know are necessary.
“This is a level of political dissonance that will not work for very long,” he said, as the environment ministries of IMO member governments will be in conflict with the position of transport ministries at the IMO. Governments will move on and demand, “What’s so special about the expedition?”
Add to this disconnect the efforts of some within the industry to act as if the 40% target is a maximum, when the IMO has set it as a minimum.
This uncertainty makes it even more difficult to make investment decisions on ships that may have a lifespan of 25 years, when it is likely that in a decade the rules will have failed and therefore have to be handed down. much stricter than they could have been. case now.
“If the industry thinks that IMO will change its policy but doesn’t know how it will do it, it must either invest in a path, hoping that everything will be fine, or it does not invest at all because it doesn’t. is not sure. will get the returns it needs, ”says Smith.
Revising the rules later would require an even greater and more painful effort than doing it now.
“It would be a Pyrrhic victory for those who want low ambition. Ultimately, it hurts the industry because those who want to go faster don’t have a business record, and then maybe the smart capital is starting to leave the industry.
The options for clean shipping
Green fuel choices boil down to options derived from bio or hydrogen, but the scalability and sustainability of biofuels is a challenge.
“We are really concerned about any fuel derived from hydrogen that contains carbon, and methanol is that fuel. It has been the subject of a lot of hype lately, but it is a real long term challenge to see how it would be made other than as a biofuel, given that it is a compound containing hydrogen, carbon and oxygen, ”says Smith.
“There are many other alternatives that we believe will likely be much cheaper in the long run, of which ammonia is the most obvious at this point.”
Smith points out that green fuels are not just about shipping.
“What we’re building globally is a hydrogen economy and an electric economy, and the two are very closely related.
“The great mantra of governments is: electrify whatever you can and use hydrogen for whatever is left or if you can’t do anything else. Bioenergy is only at the limit of help and is more than needed for a number of other uses, including plastic substitutes and food. “
The advantages of ammonia include that it is a known product that is easier to store than hydrogen. About 150 million tonnes of ammonia are currently produced per year – a level that Smith says can be tripled quite easily using renewable energy in developing countries. As with the cost of oil, the price of transport would not be a problem.
However, there are still safety issues with ammonia, and there could be issues with emissions, such as nitrous oxide, that result from the combustion of ammonia. Fuel cells that chemically extract energy from hydrogen or ammonia could solve this problem.
The cost of renewables has fallen rapidly and is expected to continue to do so, lowering the price of alternative fuels over time.
“By the end of this decade, we think we’ll need a few hundred billion [of dollars] dedicated to supplying fuel for transportation, which must be spent in the 2030s, ”says Smith.
It may sound high, but $ 20 billion has already been committed in a few years.