The shipping industry is recognised as a significant contributor to pollution and frequently comes under scrutiny for its contribution to world greenhouse gas emissions.

Shipping is responsible for over 3% of global CO2 emissions, according to data from Oceana, and this is only expected to increase if it takes no action. Although the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the emission levels for 2020 and 2021 being lower than predicted, they are expected to rise to pre-pandemic levels as the industry begins to resume operations.

In two forum webinars on maritime air pollution, industry experts discussed their views surrounding what steps the industry should be taking as well as reflecting on the changes that have been made so far.


The targets and goals

With the emission figures in mind, the industry is working towards reducing its overall environmental impact when it comes to CO2, NOX, and SOX emissions. Guidelines exist to steer this, including the International Maritime Organisation’s (IMO) ‘Greenhouse Gas strategy’.

The strategy envisages a reduction of CO2 emissions by at least 40% by 2030 and pursuing efforts towards 70% by 2050. The strategy also aims to reduce total annual greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared with 2008.

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Alongside this, a new EU policy, which will be published on 14 July, has been designed to cut shipping industry carbon emissions and is predicted to include new policies surrounding the use of fossil fuels, green fuel law for EU shipping and the use of alternative fuels.


How can the industry achieve this?

How is the industry working towards achieving the targets organisations and government bodies are presenting them with them? One of the first ways is via the use of new technology. At present there are several technologies that can be used to increase the energy efficiency of ships and in turn reduce emissions; one of these is ship-to-shore data feed technology.

This onboard monitoring of operations against an ideal baseline can see the given ship achieving optimum efficiency while significantly reducing its CO2 emissions.

Veritas Petroleum Services group commercial and new business development director Steve Bee said: “Using this technology, in some cases a reduction of CO2 up to 20% on a single vessel has been seen. This ship-to-shore data feed – normally via a cloud-based software facility – allows key operational decisions to be made in real time, and such technologies can be applied to existing fleets with the opportunity for real gains in efficiency.”

Another solution for reducing a ship’s overall emission output is exhaust emission technology. This sees the capture and treatment of exhaust emissions and tends to focus on specific air pollutant emissions such as sulphur. This could see this solution having to be used alongside other technology. It can be retrofitted to existing ships, offering a benefit to companies wishing to incorporate the technology with existing fleets.


Credit: Vidar Nordli-Mathisen.


Changing behaviours

Another way in which shipping can work towards reducing its environmental impact is changing the behaviour of the industry. Modifications to ship operations can lead to improved energy efficiency and therefore reduced emissions.

Slow steaming – the process of operating a vessel, especially container ships, at a significantly reduced maximum speed – is a tried and tested industry method to save money and fuel. This, paired with preventative maintenance programmes such as oil condition monitoring or purifier checks, would change the overall behaviour of and output from vessels.

Alternative fuels

Another method discussed during the webinars was the use of alternative, greener fuel. The industry is actively exploring liquid natural gas (LNG), hydrogen and even the use of solar panels due to their reduced environmental impacts and environmentally friendly production.

“Fuels such as LNG offer a very strong option as a positive future marine fuel. This is due to the fact that they can offer significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.”

Bee commented: “Fuels such as LNG offer a very strong option as a positive future marine fuel. This is due to the fact that they can offer significant reductions in carbon dioxide emissions while still being able to be supplied to the existing infrastructure and burned in current engine setups.”


Achievements so far

Although the shipping industry frequently comes under fire for its greenhouse gas contributions, the changes and milestones already achieved by companies and organisations in reducing its impact should also be noted.

Cruise companies such as Carnival Corporations have pioneered LNG cruise ships with the company adding more LNG-powered vessels to their fleet this year. Other operators have been investing in LNG and other greener fuels and alternative power sources such as harnessing the power of wind and sun to power vessels.

Data the industry reported to the IMO shows it achieved a CO2 intensity reduction of between 32% and 44%, attributed to a significant reduction of fuel consumption. Results such are a positive step forward in a hope that the industry will achieve the greenhouse gas regulations set out by IMO by 2030.

However, despite the industry making headway in pioneering new fuels and technology, it is still under fire from the media, government, and environmentalists.

“There are ridiculous allegations that shipping and IMO lack ambition when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”

During ‘The Maritime Air Pollution regulatory roundtable discussion’ Intertanko technical director Dragos Rauta said: “There are ridiculous allegations that shipping and IMO lack ambition when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. There are a few reasons why I feel the allegations are ridiculous. Firstly, IMO levels of ambitions are the law, no compliance means ships are penalised. This is not an agreement with no consequence if levels of ambitions are not met on time.

“When discussing short-term measures, the figure over the next 10 years will bring the shipping carbon intensity reduction in 2030 to more than 40%, below the year 2008. This is a remarkable achievement by a sector that is, and will remain, the most efficient mode of transportation.

“It is wrong to call it a lack of ambition, can shipping reduced more greenhouse gas emissions? I’m sure it will. But it’s difficult to say how much particularly not knowing the consequences from regional regulations. There seems to be a wish to required unrealistic emission reductions in order to collect money from ships.”

With new regulations being set out over the next few weeks, the industry will continue to strive towards a green future and work towards achieving the goals and targets set out by organisations and governments.