You are here

Shipping and the Environment: 2°C scenario, carbon emission, invasive species

Industry fights Great Lakes’ invasive-species protections
Invasive species risks are being fought by the shipping industry.
Lisa Neff, staff 8 April 2018

With the opening March 29 of the 60th shipping season on the St. Lawrence Seaway, oceangoing vessels began transiting the Great Lakes, bringing cargo — and the risk of even more ballast-water invasive species.

Efforts to mitigate that invasive-species risk are being fought by the shipping industry.

Court-ordered regulations require oceangoing ships to treat their ballast water before discharging it. However, according to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, the shipping industry is fighting the regulations, lobbying Congress for passage of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act — a broad series of measures to gut shipping regulations.

The bill would eliminate Clean Water Act authority over ship discharges — including ballast water — and remove the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to decide standards to protect waterways, including the Great Lakes. The measure also would exempt ships operating solely on the Great Lakes and pre-empt states’ rights to protect their waters.

Said alliance vice president for policy Molly Flanagan: “The shipping industry marks the seaway opening with fanfare and celebration each year. But behind the scenes, industry lobbyists are fighting to weaken regulations intended to protect the Great Lakes from the biological pollution that is invasive species.”

She continued, “Aquatic invasive species cause more than $200 million in economic damage annually to the region and have caused irreparable harm to the Great Lakes.”
Members of the Great Lakes congressional delegation prevented inclusion of the Vessel Incidental Discharge Act in the federal omnibus spending bill passed in March.

However, industry lobbyists continue to push for passage.

Destructive Living Cargo

Cargo vessels have introduced a number of aquatic invasive species — such as zebra mussels and round gobies — that have cost the region billions of dollars since the late 1980s, according to the alliance.

Two non-native zooplankton — Thermocyclops crassus and Brachionus leydigii — were found in Lake Erie in recent years.

And, in February, researchers announced a bloody red shrimp was found in the Duluth-Superior harbor on Lake Superior.

Bloody red shrimp were brought by ballast tanks into the Great Lakes and were first discovered in 2006 in lakes Michigan and Ontario.

The murky world of international shipping is facing pressure to clean up its act on climate
Claire James | 6th April 2018

A new report by Transparency International reinforces long-standing concerns that the shipping industry has undue influence over the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which is meeting in London over the next two weeks to discuss climate change. CLAIRE JAMES reports

The shipping industry is about to make decisions that could have a profound impact on the global environment. The International Maritime Organisation (IMO) is meeting in London over the next two weeks and is set to draw up a strategy for cutting carbon pollution over the coming decades.

But battle lines are drawn between those keen to see an agreement in line with the Paris climate deal and those who would prefer to carry on with business as usual.

The scale of the shipping industry is vast. Around 90 percent of global trade - from clothes and food to building materials and fossil fuels - is carried by sea in a merchant fleet of around 50,000 vessels. The largest of these ships are some 400 metres long - to put this in context, the Eiffel tower is 300 metres tall.

Air pollution

Unsurprisingly, therefore, it has a significant carbon footprint. If the shipping industry were a country, it would be sixth in the list of carbon polluters, between Germany and Japan.

But because the Paris climate agreement is based on nationally determined contributions from member countries, as yet it has no specific obligations to cut shipping carbon. If these emissions continued to grow, it could be 17 percent - almost a fifth - of the world’s total emissions by 2050.

But shipping draws very little attention, with awareness low among both environmentalists and the general public. The exception is, of course, those who live in or near port cities.

The cheap staple fuel of ocean-going ships is the sludgy dregs of the refining process. When burned, it emits not just climate-damaging CO2, but sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

In the UK’s major port cities such as Southampton, Grimsby and Liverpool, air pollution from shipping is a significant cause of concern for the health of local populations.

Zero tax

As climate protesters gathered outside the IMO building at the beginning of the negotiations in London, they were joined by East London residents concerned that plans to build a cruise ship terminal in Greenwich would further add to the burden on London’s already toxic air.

In Europe alone, air pollution from shipping is estimated to lead to around 50,000 premature deaths every year, with the congested ports of China and elsewhere in Asia taking an even heavier toll.

If the world of shipping is hidden to most of us, what goes on in IMO negotiations is even more opaque. A report by Transparency International, published this week, reinforces long-standing concerns that the shipping industry has undue influence over this UN body.

Around three-quarters of merchant ships are registered under ‘flags of convenience’. More than half of the world’s fleet is registered in just five states: Liberia, Malta, Panama, the Marshall Islands and the Bahamas.

These offer low or zero tax rates, limited environment and social regulation and high levels of financial secrecy. The registered owner of almost all open registry ships is a shell company set up for the sole purpose of owning that one ship.

Facing expulsion

Although IMO decisions are one member one vote among the 173 member nations, in practice they are taken by consensus, and those with greater tonnage registered have an advantage since they could block implementation by failing to ratify policies.

Government delegations should in theory be accountable to their citizens, but with employees of corporations, including shipping companies, appointed to delegations, the private sector can influence or indeed dominate delegations’ policy. These delegates are not subject to conflict of interest rules or to a code of conduct.

Interest groups can also access discussions by attending as ‘consultative members’. Industry bodies outnumber civil society and labour organisations among consultative members, and NGOs who are consultative members are hampered in their work by the requirements imposed: they can face expulsion if they criticise the agency.

Journalists can also be barred from the talks if they report on country views as expressed in open plenary without express permission.

So where does this leave the chances of getting a good deal for the climate from the IMO’s current negotiations?

Zero emissions

The good news is that there are ways in which emissions can be cut significantly, using current technology. Even the simple measure of reducing ship speed by 10 percent would lead to a 19 percent reduction in the energy needed for that voyage.

In fact, the International Transport Forum of the OECD has argued that deployment of all currently known technologies could enable maritime shipping to - almost - completely decarbonise by 2035.

This includes technological measures such as hull design improvements; wind technology and electric propulsion; and alternative fuels such as biofuels, methanol, ammonia and hydrogen.

The last, of course comes with a health warning of caution required - the EU’s reckless push for greater biofuel use in vehicles was an environmental disaster. But the overall picture is much more positive than for aviation, where promised techno-fixes have so far been largely mythical.

The Marshall Islands have proposed that the IMO should aim for zero emissions by 2035. A group of EU, Pacific countries and NGOs are arguing for at least 70 percent (and aiming for 100 percent) by 2050.

Radical action

However, a group of nations led by Brazil, and including Saudi Arabia, India and Argentina, is resisting any cap on total CO2 emissions from shipping. This leaves the door open to a weaker deal, incompatible with the Paris climate agreement.

Japan, however, is proposing just a 50 percent cut by 2060. The International Chamber of Shipping, which represents 80 percent of the world’s merchant fleet, suggests reducing emissions by 50 percent per tonne-km by 2050 with an overall cap of maintaining emissions below 2008 levels.

Much like individual countries looking to cut their emissions, the shipping industry faces both immediate costs and potential advantages from taking advantage of new, cleaner technologies.

But one thing is clear - they cannot expect to get a free ride. The Paris agreement was drawn up in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence about the need for radical action on climate, and since 2015 the urgency has only increased.

A sustainable maritime industry in a 2°C scenario – has the ship already sailed?

Shipping has long been a fundamental enabler of trade, although its important role may go unnoticed. Think about where the clothes you are wearing were made and how they arrived here. What about your phone? How did its components all come together to reach your hand right now? It’s very likely that shipping played a role in both examples. How is this all made possible?

Containerisation, a system of multi-modal transport storage, means that ships remain the cheapest and most efficient transport method. Today, they can carry tens of thousands of containers around the globe with only a small crew.

The industry has been growing at a remarkable rate. Already producing 2.5% of global carbon emissions, this industry is expected to grow by between 50% and 250% by 2050. Shipping fuel is often much more dense and polluting than that allowed on land, presenting an environmental challenge that needs to be met by more sustainable measures in the shipping industry.

The acclaimed Paris climate agreement in 2015 achieved great success in establishing binding carbon targets by sector. However, due to extensive lobbying of the International Marine Organisation (IMO), shipping was the only sector excluded from legally binding emissions reductions. This has impacted the drive towards developing more sustainable fuels and shipping systems, despite the IMO committing to some form of carbon reductions.

As a result, international shipping legislation around environmental impacts has been slow. But there has been some progress. A recent development was the introduction of a lower sulphur content cap for shipping fuels from 3.5% to 0.5% from 2020, with an aim to improve air quality near ports and shipping routes.

Environmental legislation is increasingly coming from regional and local levels, although its impacts are felt at a global scale. A notable example is the EU, which has declared that any ship over 5,000 tonnes must monitor, report and verify their annual carbon emissions from 1 January 2018. This drive for sustainability has come from individual ports as well. For instance, the Port of London Authority has introduced a 5% discounted green tariff for more environmentally friendly ships.

These examples look set to become trends, with increasing responsibility being taken by port authorities. The World Ports Sustainability Programme (WPSP) was launched in March this year, aimed at creating holistic sustainability plans for ports to shape the shipping sector thorough a series of tariffs, investment, efficiency improvements, and bans.

There has been much innovation regarding clean-energy shipping, including the soon-approaching world-first electric, driver-less barge; hydrogen-powered shipping; and a solar-powered bulk-carrier ship. However, these technologies are unlikely to contribute significantly to carbon reductions in the shipping sector any time soon. The near future of sustainable shipping therefore looks increasingly based around new fuel blends, efficiency measures, and taxes. Unlike road fuels, marine fuels are currently not taxed, and a CO2 tax is gaining momentum worldwide. This method helps to drive the cheapest emissions reductions, through optimisation of shipping speeds, fuel shifts and efficiency improvements.

The sector is facing some big changes, although the mechanisms remain unclear. If sustainable shipping is to make a tangible contribution to global climate targets, both international legislative pressure and bottom-up regional and port-led initiatives will need to be ambitious, economically viable, and aligned.

Action or inaction in the industry will also have significant consequences for the outcomes of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs), most notably SDG 13 on climate action and SDG 14 relating to life below water. The maritime industry will need to play an integral role in development that conserves our oceans and marine resources, an essential requirement for a sustainable future.
Source: Carbon Clear