The commitment and innovation shown by the shipping industry to tackle climate concerns could be undermined if upstream emissions efforts fail to keep up. A recent IMarEST webinar provided a fascinating insight into the key questions – and challenges.
The maritime industry knows it needs to move quickly and innovatively if it is to successfully meet the goal of the IMO (International Maritime Organization) to reduce emissions from global shipping by at least half by 2050, compared to 2008 levels.
However, a survey by Lloyd’s Register and the University Maritime Advisory Services (UMAS) found that 85 per cent of shipping stakeholders have serious concerns about the impact of emissions produced upstream of shipping – through fuel extraction, processing and distribution – on its efforts and future investments.
The IMarEST webinar Upstream & Operational Emissions of Alternative Fuels for Shipping explored this wide-ranging and important issue. It was particularly timely as IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) met virtually in November to consider adopting amendments to MARPOL, the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, which will introduce new, short-term measures to accelerate the reduction of shipping’s carbon intensity.
“The big lift in reducing emission from shipping is going to have to be done almost entirely by alternative fuels.” Aoife O’Leary, Environmental Defence Fund
The IMO Environment Committee did indeed approve amendments to cut ship emissions. These will see new ships built from 2022 having to be significantly more energy-efficient and implement binding measures to reduce shipping emissions by at least 40 per cent by 2030, compared with 2008 levels.
Long-term environmental impact
Through presentations, a panel discussion, and questioning from a worldwide virtual audience, the IMarEST webinar explored why the entire lifecycle of all alternative low and zero-carbon fuels for shipping now need to be fully interrogated in order to establish a true picture of their real long-term environmental impact.
“The big lift in reducing emission from shipping is going to have to be done almost entirely by alternative fuels,” explained panellist Aoife O’Leary of the Environmental Defence Fund. “We therefore need to look at the lifecycles of all fuels to make sure that any fuel the shipping industry starts using is actually going to be better than the fuel it was using before.
“All of the economic, environmental and technical criteria is currently pointing towards ammonia and hydrogen as successful alternative fuels, but if you produce them using, for example, natural gas you could actually make your emissions worse for the environment than they were before.
“The climate doesn’t care whether emissions come from the land or a ship – it just cares about the overall level. We have to be very careful about that.”
Aoife O’Leary was joined on the webinar – hosted by Yildiz Williams from Lloyd’s Register – by Camile Bourgeon, IMO; Tore Longva, DNV GL; Sunil Krishnakumar, International Chamber of Shipping; Petra Doubkova, European Commission; and Tristan Smith, UMAS.
What is a sustainable alternative fuel, anyway?
The panellists considered the myriad issues surrounding the lifecycles of alternative marine fuels – including trying to define what a sustainable alternative fuel actually is, and the extent of the IMO’s remit, expertise and influence in an area where, perhaps, it could let other, better placed, organisations tackle upstream emissions on behalf of shipping.
Will nuclear be the new ‘green’?
There were plenty of questions from the global virtual audience. What shape will future fuel frameworks be, how can we prevent the ‘double-counting’ of emissions within the supply chain, and will the potential of nuclear fuel eventually win over newer future fuels as the primary green source of future marine propulsion.
“Transparency and governance is going to be this key,” says Aoife O’Leary. “There will have to be a full range of sustainably criteria, because other elements such as human rights, and water and land rights for people, are just as important as emissions. It’s vital we keep that in mind.”
Dennis O’Neill is a journalist specialising in maritime.
Click here to watch the full version of the webinar on IMarEST TV.
Find out more about IMarEST’s Marine Fuels and Emissions Special Interest Group.