Innovation required to spur cargo shipping sector towards 2050 emission reduction targets

Despite recent progress towards decarbonisation by the world's leading maritime shipping companies, the sector is in need of innovation to spur it towards the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) 2050 target of halving CO2 emissions from 2008 levels.

That is according to global non-profit BSR’s Clean Cargo Working Group, which found that the CO2 emissions generated by 22 big-name stakeholders in the maritime industry – collectively representing 85% of the containerised shipping sector – fell 1% last year.

The Group, which provides resources aimed at helping major brands, cargo carriers and freight forwarders to measure and reduce the emissions intensity of their ocean carriers, compiled emissions data from more than 3,200 ships to calculate the statistic.

Its research, published today (August 16), reveals that emissions per container move have dropped by 37.1% since 2009. In order to accelerate progress towards industry-wide climate targets, the BSR has called for a focus on innovation.

“We need more innovation in low-emission technology, as well as continued collaboration, to meet the ambitious goal of halving CO2 emissions from shipping by 2050,” BSR manager Nate Springer said.

“The progress on climate and air quality we are seeing in container shipping — one of the highest emitting industries — is absolutely critical for achieving global environmental goals.”

According to a report by the European Parliament, the international shipping industry is currently responsible for about 2.5% of global CO2 emissions – but this proportion could rise to 17% by 2050 if the sector is left unregulated.

Cargo and container ships are an important transportation method, carrying billions of tonnes of goods across select trade groups each year. However, the heavy boats are often heavy emitters, with research suggesting that vessels of 5,000 gross tonnage and above account for 85% of carbon emissions from the shipping sector.

The sector is striving to meet climate commitments. Currently, 81% of BSR’s Clean Cargo Working Group – including DHL and Costco Shipping – have emissions reduction targets in place.

Pushing the boat out

After becoming the first international body to adopt mandatory energy and carbon efficiency measures for an entire sector in 2011, the IMO – and the shipping industry as a whole – was missing from the global climate deal established in Paris in 2015, along with international aviation.

Nonetheless, the shipping industry has since introduced its own global initiative to combat climate change. In 2016, the IMO approved a roadmap through to 2023 on the global adoption of an emissions reduction strategy. Since then, more than 170 countries have reached an agreement to reduce CO2 emissions from their respective maritime sectors by at least 50%, against a 2008 baseline.

According to the text produced by the IMO working group submitted to member states, this target is not legally binding.

In a further drive to improve the sustainability of the sector, six corporations recently announced they would lead a new UN initiative to help stakeholders tackle ocean issues including overfishing, marine litter and acidification.

The coalition pledged through membership to the UN’s Global Action Platform for Sustainable Ocean Business to re-evaluate their products, services and business models to negate harmful impacts on ocean ecosystems.

Sarah George

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