Low-carbon ships won't be enough to cut sector's emissions

Will Green is news editor of Supply Management
12 June 2020

New low-carbon container ships will not be enough to reduce the environmental damage caused by shipping, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Manchester said emissions from existing ships could “use up the industry’s carbon budget before new ships are taken into account”.

The study said ships are so long-lived that policies to cut emissions must focus on decarbonising and retrofitting existing ships, “rather than just rely on new, more efficient ships to achieve the necessary reductions”.

“As ships are so long-lived, the committed emissions from journeys travelled during the rest of their lifespan, are higher than for other modes of transport. Without action, existing ships are expected to emit well over 100% of a Paris-compatible carbon budget,” said the university.

The study involved analysing emissions, ship age and scrappage data covering the 11,000 ships included in the European Union’s emissions monitoring scheme.

It said existing ships could cut emissions by travelling at slower speeds, fitting wind power rotor technologies, connecting to grid electricity while in port, and retrofitting other energy-saving measures.

In 2017 Maersk announced it would be fitting experimental rotor sails to one of its ships, saying they could cut fuel consumption by up to 10%.

Professor Alice Larkin, head of the School of Engineering at the university, said: “The shipping industry continues to play a hugely important role in international trade and especially for our island nation, but this research highlights that the International Maritime Organization’s current targets need to be substantially tightened to align with Paris goals.”

Dr John Broderick, climate change lecturer at the university, said: “Unlike in aviation, there are many different ways to decarbonise the shipping sector, but there must be much greater attention paid to retrofitting the existing fleet, before it’s too late to deliver on the net-zero target.”

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