We need to take action today to meet the 2050 emission targets
Now that the dust has settled on the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee’s latest commitment it’s time to look at the industry needs to do and why now is the right time to start working towards the ambitious goals they set. In case you missed it, in April the MEPC made the historic decision to reduce global CO2 emissions to shipping by 50% of 2008 levels by 2050, whilst at the same time developing a strategy to phase out carbon based fuels altogether.
This is the first time the IMO has proposed such far reaching change to how the global supply chain functions and it’s hugely exciting to be part of an industry that is taking a lead in tackling climate change. 2050 is a long way away however, it’s highly likely that everyone who is in a leadership position within the industry today won’t be in one in 32 years time. It would be easy to ignore the carbon emissions problem for the next few decades and concentrate on more immediate problems like the sulphur cap and the burgeoning Sino-American trade war. The simple truth, however, is if we don’t act now, it’s going to be impossible to make big enough cuts to emissions to get anywhere close to 50% in time.
If you’ve worked at sea or been involved in seafarer training you will know that the Manila amendments to the STCW convention which required all seafarers to do regular refresher training came into force in January 2017. The Manila amendments were adopted and approved in 2010, a full seven years before they were due to be enforced. In November 2016, just six weeks before the rules enforcement date, the IMO’s Maritime Safety Committee decided that it was not going to be possible for flag states, class societies, shipowners, and training establishments to process the sheer number of seafarers who needed the certification required to be compliant so extended the transition period by a further 6 months.
The regulations which introduced the 0.5% sulphur cap were adopted by the IMO in 2008. A decade on, we now have less than 18 months to go until the 2020 deadline comes into force and once again, the industry is woefully underprepared. As of May this year, only 983 ships out of 60,000 have installed scrubbers and it’s estimated that there is only yard capacity to fit a maximum of 2,500 by 2020. This wouldn’t be an issue if the supply of low sulphur fuel oil was anywhere close to high enough to meet demand, but it’s not and likely won’t be on the 1st of January 2020. In a report by MIT economist Philip Verleger, the price of crude oil will skyrocket to 2008 levels as soon as the sulphur cap is enforced because the refining industry just isn’t ready for the change in demand.
Compared to the 2050 emissions goal, the sulphur cap and the Manilla amendments are minor regulation changes. If we want to stand any chance of hitting the 2050 goal as an industry we need to extend our horizons and start making provisions and changes now, not in 2048. Making small adjustments to a ship’s course in good time saves you from having to make big adjustments later, the same is true for the entire industry. A 50% reduction in emissions may seem highly ambitious but when split across a 30 year timeframe we can achieve the goal in very manageable increments. Assuming emission levels are still hovering around the 2008 peak in 2020, we will need to reduce emissions by just 2.4% each year to hit the 50% goal 30 years later.
Whatever happens over the next 30 years, technology holds the key to being able to meaningfully reduce the industry’s emissions. As well as investing in the research and testing of new fuels and vessel designs, we need to use the billions of data points available to fully optimise how we operate ships to reduce the energy consumption of the world fleet and make new fuel options viable. According to a report by ITF, it’s possible for the industry to reduce emissions by 95% by 2035 using technology that is already available today. 32 years is a long time, but shipping moves slowly and the time will go quickly. We have a unique opportunity as an industry to change, but if we treat the 2050 goal like we have other IMO regulations, we will miss the chance.