The shipping industry remains under scrutiny from environmentalists as to how it will reduce its carbon emissions.

With the two-year anniversary of the drafting of the Paris Climate Agreement approaching – in which shipping emissions were omitted – the sector remains without clearly defined targets to cut out greenhouse gases.

This is in spite of roughly 2.2% of global carbon emissions deriving from shipping. According to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), emissions from vessels could rise anywhere from between 50% and 250% by 2050 if the status quo remains.

Has the industry reached the fork in the road regarding environmental action? Most definitely, believes Astrid Sonneveld, initiator and director of the GoodShipping Program, a new sustainable biofuels initiative developed by Dutch group GoodFuels Marine.

The programme marks a world-first in enabling ocean cargo owners the opportunity to control and reduce the carbon footprint of their ocean freight – as opposed to being reliant on the shipowner to change its fuel mix, or having to offset their carbon footprint outside the shipping industry.

Generated out of waste and residues, the biofuels allow for carbon reduction, while also providing significant benefits when it comes to local emissions, such as reductions in sulphur and nitrogen oxide.

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Set to come into play this autumn, Sonneveld offers a glimpse into the initiative, and its potential to incentivise cargo owners to take matters into their own hands and decarbonise their fuel mix.

Ross Davies: How did the GoodShipping Program come about? Could you provide some brief background to its inception?

Astrid Sonneveld: The carbon dioxide reduction potential of advanced biofuels is great and can be expected to make up an ever-increasing share of the marine fuel mix over the coming decades.

However, accelerating biofuel uptake in container shipping is challenging, because of the power dynamics that have come about – in parallel to increasing vessel sizes, and the structural change this has caused.

Today’s shippers have very little input in how container vessels are being operated. Also, for carriers, it is becoming more and more difficult for carriers to accommodate individual shipper demands.

Having had many conversations with sizeable cargo owners, we concluded this struggle was real; CO2 performance is dictated by industry trends and those eager to lower their CO2 footprint – ahead of regulations – did not have the power or means to do so.

That’s why we designed and developed the GoodShipping Program with the sole purpose of putting cargo owners back in the driver seat.

RD: What makes it different to other sustainability initiatives already in place in the maritime sector?

AS: Up until now, common answers to the decarbonisation of international shipping have focused on energy efficiency or carbon offsets outside of the industry. The GoodShipping Program adds to that by actually changing the marine fuel mix and phasing out fossil heavy fuel oils – while, at the same time, phasing in renewables.

Lots of sustainability initiatives are still about either MRV [monitoring, reporting, verification] and data collection and reporting – or knowledge gathering on potential measures. Compared to those, this is much more hands-on, as it fosters individual action to replace fossil fuel.

It’s 2017 and we believe it is time to walk the talk and no longer kick the can down the street. The GoodShipping Program empowers those who share this belief.

RD: How much of a game-changer is the programme for companies seeking control to decarbonise their ocean freight?

AS: Handing the cargo owners the control of their carbon comes at a pivotal moment.

Over the past decade, cargo owners have been in the easy position of watching favourable industry trends from the sideline – having chosen what has always been regarded the ‘greenest mode of transport’.

Because of increasing vessel sizes and slow steaming practices, there has been continuous improvement in carbon efficiency. At the same time, freight rates have continued to fall.

But the container industry is reaching a plateau, and the trend of ever-improving CO2 performance has flattened out. The low hanging fruits have been picked. The consensus now is that efficiency alone will not be enough.

There is even the looming risk of trend reversal; slow steaming is not a structural change. Container ships are speeding up again, partially because of the low oil prices.

The sense of urgency and desire of control among sustainable-minded cargo owners is growing again.

RD: What has the response to the programme been like among cargo owners?

AS: Positive. Whereas efficiency improvements have been, and will continue to be primarily carrier-driven, cargo owners clearly reckon that a change in marine fuel mix away from the cheapest and dirtiest will be shipper driven.

However, there is no point denying that the switch to biofuels comes with a price tag attached.

Voluntarily moving ahead of industry regulation is for those who dare to take the lead. GoodShipping believes ensuring transparency and biofuel technology outlook to those involved is key to success.

RD: Who is eligible to participate in the programme?

AS: Both shippers and carriers. But we are exploring the opportunities with whoever wishes to have added value.