Shipping Decarbonization- Expanding the Conversation

This has been a busy week- while I’ve not been at Posidonia (and I am very envious of those folks who are over there), I have been getting up early and watching the International Maritime Organization (IMO) environmental committee meeting- known as MEPC78, over a media webcast link. The MEPC is trying to get to some regulatory certainty on decarbonization (think about those widely quoted Carbon Intensity Indicators, or CIIs, and the Energy Efficiency Indices for Existing Vessels, or EEXI). My reaction is that they are completely overwhelmed – there is a desire to revise their “Initial Strategy” (on shipping carbon reduction, perhaps towards “Net zero by 2050”) soon- so folks can plan, but there are just so many viewpoints and technical issues. In one of their sessions, they were discussing plans for additional meetings of working groups, correspondence groups, and all manner of collaborative conversations to work through the many issues. Additionally, various IMO delegates have asked the question- which (I paraphrase) goes along the lines of “How can we talk about using new fuels if we don’t know what they are, there are no fuel infrastructures, etc etc?” These are excellent points; maybe it’s time to begin addressing them.

A press release from Intercargo, an organization representing drybulk shipowners (I used to do some writing for their market reports, back in the day), really hit home, and is worth highlighting. Intercargo has Non-governmental-organization (NGO) status at the IMO meetings, and has been making the rounds of the various conferences and panels at Posidonia. In their release, the organization highlights that: “It would be a mistake to place responsibility for meeting IMO’s zero emission shipping targets fully on the shoulders of the shipping industry…” I could not have said it any better.

Intercargo (along with other organizations) has been supporting a research fund regarding new fuels, as well as sorely needed infrastructure for organizing all the research and the free-for-all of demonstration projects (each with press releases galore). Though shipping companies are participating in some of these projects, the bigger questions would center on future production of the fuels- and the infrastructures for distributing them. However clean the fuels might be, these bigger issues go well beyond the shipowners, even those with vessels painted light blue.

Spyros Tarasis, Vice-Chairman of Intercargo, said it very well: “Global challenges require global solutions, but it must be remembered that the commercial development of these solutions is within the direct control of other stakeholders and not shipowners. Such a target requires a drastic and urgently needed acceleration in the commercial development of the required technologies, fuels, propulsion systems and related infrastructure.

“Whilst Intercargo fully supports the drive and the ambition to achieve zero emission shipping by 2050, it urges governments to adopt the necessary measures to accelerate R&D of zero-carbon technologies and expedite their deployment. The net-zero target will only be plausible if governments take the necessary action to achieve this at IMO.”

I am not sure how many readers of these articles reside in governments, so I would urge shipping readers to be vocal, get in front of politicians and transport ministers (or similar) and really make the case- presenting these arguments. Usually, I rant and rail about the role of charterers here; they pay the freight (and often pay for the fuel), so they may also be able to raise their voices (perhaps better so than the shipping companies).  But let’s keep that for another column before too long.