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Ocean shipping lays the ground for a sustainable future

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With expanding environmental regulations worldwide and increased customer and stakeholder expectations for sustainability, the ocean shipping industry continues to seek ways to remain profitable, resilient, and environmentally responsible. In this feature, we explore the impact of ocean shipping on the environment along with the newer, greener methods and technologies to achieve carbon neutrality and promote a sustainable future.

Take a quick scan of everything that’s around you. From the chair you are sitting on to the phone or iPad you are using, your breakfast cereal, the fruit you ate, the iron ore – everything you need or want, or the raw materials used in making those things – have travelled to you in the giant ships sailing through the world’s ocean.

About 80-90% of commodities traded internationally are transported by ships in enormous vessels, including cargo carriers, tanks, and containers. Most of these ships, for over 50 years have been dominated by engines relying on HFO (Heavy fuel oils), which are available in abundance and are inexpensive- but at the same time polluting the environment. These fuels release tons of particulate matter and account for about 3% of GHG (greenhouse gas emission).

With growing global commerce, the volume of shipping traffic increased drastically over the years, thus, burning a massive amount of fuel and producing a large amount of air pollution.

As per the governing body of international shipping, IMO’s 2020 greenhouse gas study, in 2018, global shipping activity emitted roughly 1.05 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, accounting for about 2.9% of the total global anthropogenic CO2 emissions for that year.

“Overall, CO2 emissions from ships account for just under 3% of global emissions – an amount that needs to be reduced. However, it is also worth noting that shipping is still an efficient mode of transport in terms of emissions per container transported. At the same time, we are aware that freight volumes and the resultant maritime traffic are increasing. As a global shipping company, it is our responsibility to contribute to keeping our oceans healthy and intact,” Janin Aden, Senior Director of Sustainability at Hapag-Lloyd said while expressing her thoughts.

With maritime traffic expected to increase, regulators and the shipping industry are seeing the need for change and looking to shape the future of shipping on the back of sustainability.

What is sustainable shipping?

Any sustainable practice used in the shipping industry aiming to reduce negative environmental impacts, such as fuel usage and CO emissions is called sustainable shipping. Aiming to move toward sustainable operations, de-carbonize and clean up the emission in maritime transport, experts evaluate various methods, including investing in newer and greener technologies and considering alternative fuels.

“Primarily, the shipping industry is investing in new technologies and in researching clean fuel options. At the same time, we need strong coalitions and regulatory measures,” Ms Aden said.

Greener measures en route

Addressing the issue of emission, efforts to decarbonize international shipping has been made by both public and private sectors.

IMO, which began to monitor emissions in 2005 – especially the sulphur content of marine fuels – has set an overall goal of a 50% reduction in GHG emissions from international shipping by 2050 and is pursuing efforts to phase out GHG emissions from international maritime shipping by the end of this century.

In 2020, IMO set new regulations that limit marine fuel sulphur content to 0.5% by weight and issued a carriage ban on all non-compliant fuel. In addition, fuel sulphur regulations are tightened to 0.1% sulphur by weight (S) when operating in emissions control areas.

These regulations are driving ship owners to diversify their fuel portfolio, towards considering low-sulphur and low-carbon alternatives and pushing them towards achieving carbon-neutral operations. Following this, Maersk has advanced the time of achieving net-zero operations to 2040.

Ms Aden supporting the goal set by the IMO and welcoming Maersk’s decision says, “It shows that the issue of climate neutrality is taken very seriously in our industry. At the end of the day, we all must pull together. We see de-carbonization as a collective task, not a race.”

Vikash Agarwal, Managing Director – South Asia, A.P. Moller – Maersk, while talking about the steps taken by Maersk to clean up emissions, says: “Maersk has committed to setting science-based targets in the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi) and our current target setting commitment is the commitment made in May 2021 when Maersk signed the “Business Ambition for 1.5°C” letter to ‘set a long-term science-based target to reach net-zero value chain GHGs emissions by no later than 2050 and to set near-term science-based targets across all relevant scopes and in line with the criteria and recommendations of the SBTi’.

“Science-based targets in the SBTi can be near-term or long-term net-zero targets. A company can have near-term targets without having a long-term net-zero target, but not the other way around unless the long-term net-zero target has a time frame of 10 years or less.

“Maersk has chosen 2020 as a baseline year, 2030 as a near-term target year, and 2040 as a net-zero target year.”


This is an abridged version of the original story that was published in the May edition of the Logistics Insider magazine. To read the complete article, click here.

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