Port decarbonisation to reduce shipping emissions

At the annual ESPO conference in May 2019, Dr Martin Stopford, President of Clarkson Research Services Ltd, discussed the ways in which the shipping and port decarbonisation can meet emissions reduction targets.

International shipping is a huge source of carbon emissions. With millions of tonnes of carbon being produced by boats carrying cargo across our seas, shipping and port decarbonisation is a major goal across Europe. A study published by the International Maritime Organization in 2014 revealed that maritime transport emits around 940 million tonnes of CO2 every year, amounting to 2.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions; and that maritime emissions are set to increase by 250% by 2050.

The Paris Climate Agreement wants emissions to be reduced by 100% by 2050 to a total of net zero. If the ports and shipping industries want to meet this target, they must act now and take steps to ensure they are future ready; updating their fleets, bringing in new ships and finding alternative sources of fuel.

Strategies for reducing carbon emission

Last year the goal was to cut emissions by 50% – however, one thing that was not considered when it came to this decision was the technology used for doing it. People were so desperate to get an agreement that where we are at the moment is somewhere in middle of how much we should cut. The last time we had a green maritime industry was 1840, when there were 30,000 sailing ships around the world carrying 20 million tonnes of cargo. In 2018 we had 65,000 cargo ships, which is six times as much. If we had people doing the work of the engines we use in our ships now, ships would need three million people working eight hour shifts, sleeping in a town the size of Athens to sleep in, consuming three billion calories a day; with a whole fleet of ships just to carry their food. We have managed to move 12 million tonnes of cargo with these enormous engines; but for every tonne of fuel this engine burns it produces 3.3 tonnes of carbon.

What we have to do is to figure out how to replace this enormous beast, given that marine engineering and naval architecture are very immature. If trade continues to grow at the rate it has been in growing at in the last 50 years, this takes us up to 3 billion tonnes of carbon. We need to cut back to 470 million tonnes. There are big challenges to how we can do this.

Port decarbonisation strategies

There are four things which can be done to reduce carbon emissions from these industries:

  • Change trading patterns – we have become used to very cheap transport and don’t think hard about how much carbon is involved. We need to reduce emissions without ruining people’s standard of living;
  • Slow down ships – ships can save enormous amount of fuel if they slow down to 10 knots;
  • Develop zero carbon fuel cells, such as hydrogen fuel cells. The problem here is that we need to manufacture them without producing carbon; and
  • Reorganise the way businesses are run in order to achieve these things.

If we cut trade routes by 1% to 2.2% then we can cut the carbon footprint by over a billion tonnes of carbon by not moving things we do not really to move. We also really need to ensure all of our fleets have half a fleet that has zero carbon propulsion. This does mean however; we will need a lot more ships – which emphasises importance of cleaning up our existing ships.

Rethinking Europe’s sea transport system

Europe is a very mature economic region. When I started work it was the big region for growth, just like China is now. For the last 20 years, Europe’s seaborne imports have not increased, resulting in a total of two billion tonnes of imports. Europe’s container trade, however, has been growing. It slowed down in the last four years to 2% or 3%: I think this is the implication of some of the geopolitical trends. Meanwhile, inland transport is changing radically, changing the high street: departments that have been there for 100 years are disappearing. Companies like FedEx are running fleets of 40,000 vehicles. As we move forward it is a different world economy. We are going to see Europe and Asia developing as separate business to business transport systems.

The 1967 McKinsey report on containerisation said that containerisation would do four things: reduce transport costs; shift the relative economics of railroad and the maritime sector; enable shipping organisations to grow; and move the focus to origins and destination transport. The first has happened; we have bigger ships and bigger companies; but focus on origins and destinations never happened. We have lost short sea distribution systems because in the early days of containerisation companies could only afford one terminal in a region. Bigger ships have brought more rigidity into our system. The containers on our roads have high carbon footprints and we cannot envisage anything else. We need to consider alternatives to implement port decarbonisation.

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