Durant’s views were echoed by the UN’s International
Shipping Organization (IMO), whose spokesperson, Lee Adamson, pointed out that
current levels of emissions from shipping are “not acceptable”, and that the
industry needs a “new propulsion revolution”, to completely cut emissions from
According to the IMO, shipping will be essential to the UN’s
vision for sustainable development, providing a dependable, energy-efficient
and low-cost way to transport more than 80 percent of the world’s trade.
Nevertheless, the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions produced by
the sector are significant and, according to the World Bank, the sector has not
kept pace with other forms of transport, when it comes to climate action. The
World Bank estimates that a single large shipping vessel, produces as much
sulphur as 50 million cars.
At around 800 million tonnes per year, the industry as a
whole is responsible for approximately 2.2 percent of all global emissions.
Speaking at a plenary panel on the importance of drastically
reducing maritime emissions, Durant said that the maritime industry is heavily
reliant on a form of liquid fuel that has a high carbon footprint. Global
seaborne trade is expected to double over the next twenty years, which means
that it is imperative to make sure ships are powered in a way that is much more
sustainable. This is why the UN is leading a number of projects aimed at
significantly cutting emissions and, eventually, phasing them out altogether.
“In 2018, IMO Member States adopted an initial strategy for
cutting GHG emissions from shipping and phasing them out entirely, as soon as
possible. There’s a specific linkage to the Paris Agreement on climate change,
and clear levels of ambition – including at least a 50 per cent cut in
emissions from the sector by 2050, compared to 2008,” Adamson explained.
He added that, given the expected rise in trade and
transport, ships currently at sea will have to cut their emissions by some 80
percent and, by 2030, newly-built ships will need to be completely
“The strategy is expected to drive a new propulsion
revolution. There is a need to make zero-carbon ships commercially more
attractive, and to direct investments towards innovative sustainable
technologies, and alternative low-carbon and zero-carbon fuels.”
A number of options are currently being explored by the
shipping industry. These include battery-powered and hybrid ferries, ships
trialing biofuels or hydrogen fuel cells, and wind-assisted propulsion.
Norwegian ferry company Color Line, for example, has built
the world’s largest plug-in hybrid ship, capable of carrying 2,000 passengers
and 500 cars between the towns of Strømstad, Sweden, and Sandefjord, Norway.
The battery pack on the vessel gives it up to 60 minutes
maneuvering and sailing at speeds of up to 12 knots, which means that the last
leg of the two-and-a-half-hour trip, through the fjord that leads to Sandefjord
harbor, is emission-free.
Norway is also the home of Brødrene Aa, a constructor of
highly efficient carbon fibre ferries, which, they say, can reduce fuel
consumption by up to 40 percent compared to traditional vessels. The company
has developed a concept vessel that runs entirely on batteries and hydrogen,
anticipating a future in which zero-emissions ferries are the norm.
Despite these encouraging signs that a zero-emission future
for shipping is possible, action needs to take much faster if the UN’s goals
are to be achieved, Adamson warned.
Although investments in low or zero-emission shipping may
mean higher costs, business as usual, according to the IMO spokesperson, is not
“The status quo is not acceptable because of the impact of
ship emissions, not just to address climate change, but also on human health
and the environment, and that has its own cost which is also borne by society,”
“The principle of ‘polluter pays’ is well established, and
it has to be recognized that shipping is a polluter, in spite of its
cost-effectiveness, and somehow that needs to be mitigated.”