World's biggest container shipper commits to carbon neutrality by 2050

Danish container shipping giant Maersk has pledged to become a carbon-neutral business by 2050 - the first commitment of its kind from the global maritime shipping sector.

Maersk operates more than 780 vessels accross the world and employs more than 30,000 people

Maersk operates more than 780 vessels accross the world and employs more than 30,000 people

Announced on Wednesday (5 December), the move will see Maersk work with governments and industry in order to help spur the development of net-zero vessels and shipping fuels in a bid to make these technologies commercially viable by 2030.

Given that the average container shipping vessel has a lifespan of 20-25 years, Maersk’s chief operating officer Søren Toft said that taking ambitious action to decarbonise the shipping sector within the next decade will be “crucial” in achieving the International Maritime Organisation's (IMO) 2050 target of halving CO2 emissions from 2008 levels.

The only possible way to achieve the so-much-needed decarbonisation in our industry is by fully transforming to new carbon-neutral fuels and supply chains,” Toft said. “Going forward, we cannot do this alone.”

While collaboration will be key to meeting its 2050 ambition, Maersk is also set to make “significant” investment into retrofitting its existing vessels, purchasing electric ground vehicles, sourcing renewable power and installing energy efficiency technologies.

An exact figure has not yet been disclosed, but Maersk has notably invested around $1bn each year into research and development projects around low-carbon technologies since 2014. Through this investment, it has trained more than 50 engineers in the design and installation processes for energy efficiency technologies.

The announcement comes off the back of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) landmark report, which warns that the world must achieve net-zero emsissions by mid-century if global temperature increases are to be limited to 1.5C. 

Setting a course for sustainability

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.

Some of the largest corporations within the sector have already made progress towards decarbonising their operations, with global non-profit BSR’s Clean Cargo Working Group estimating that emissions per container move have dropped by 37.1% since 2009

Leading this trend, Maersk has reduced its relative CO2 emissions by 46% against a 2007 baseline, largely through the adoption of energy efficiency technologies and the sourcing of renewable power.

Indeed, since the IMO approved a roadmap through to 2023 on the global adoption of an emissions reduction strategy in 2016, 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.

But as ambition levels rise, progress to convert aims into action continues to be slow, with the Clean Cargo Working Group’s most recent research concluding that absolute emissions accounted for by the 22 largest companies within the industry had fallen just 1% between 2016 and 2017.

To spur more ambitious action, BSR is now calling on those within the sector to turn to innovation. Agri-food giant Cargill notably launched the first industry competition to incentivise the development of innovative solutions to maritime shipping’s carbon challenges earlier this year.  

Sarah George


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