Sea Change The shipping industry must go green

The chief executive of MAN Diesel & Turbo calls for a transition to green energy in the shipping sector, but says that regulatory uniformity will be essential.
Shipping going green in Germany soon?

The outcome of the climate conference in Paris has been lauded as a "historic agreement." For the first time in the history of climate change, all United Nations member states have come together to support a co-sponsored contract designed to counter the increase in global warming. The defined target of 1.5 degrees Celsius is highly ambitious and will require efforts from all states and emitting industries. The shipping industry must also make its contribution.

The active involvement of the shipping industry in climate protection is relatively new. For a long time, harmful emissions have been seen as others' responsibility. There appeared to be good reasons for this.

The international shipping industry is responsible for a relatively small share of global carbon dioxide emissions – 2.2 percent in 2012. And the fact still remains that sea transport is the most efficient and sustainable mode of transport available to the global logistics trade. And to cope with the ever-growing volume of global goods transportation, there is no alternative to shipping.

However, the industry has begun to take a harder look at its own environmental impact. For emissions other than CO2, namely sulphur and nitrogen oxides, this shift in thinking is justified. While sulphur dioxide emissions were reduced in Germany by over 90 percent as a whole since 1990, the limit values for marine fuels at sea are declining only gradually.

And when it comes to nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx), marine diesels are in the same boat as other diesel engines. Without suitable countermeasures, the pursuit of higher efficiency will inevitably lead to increased NOx levels in the exhaust gas. These consequences also affect Germany. With Hamburg leading the ranking of German cities with the highest levels of sulphur dioxide in the air, there is no doubt that the shipping industry certainly plays a part in this for the port metropolis.

In addition to reducing emissions through filtering techniques, the industry is preparing for the complete departure from heavy oil as a fuel.

In collaboration with the International Maritime Organization – the responsible specialized United Nations regulatory agency – the industry has been racing to catch up in recent years, and with success. Thanks to the considerable investment in research and development, exhaust scrubbing technologies which can reduce NOx emissions by over 80 percent are now available in the market.

Sulphur oxides in the exhaust gas can even be reduced by up to 95 percent through the use of desulphurization units. Only vessels with such reduced output are allowed to enter the specially established "Emission Control Areas," which include not only the Baltic Sea and parts of the North Sea, but also the coastal waters of the United States.

In addition to reducing emissions through filtering techniques, the industry is preparing for the complete departure from heavy oil as a fuel. This represents a sea change in how it will be powered in the future. Liquefied natural gas, LNG, was first successfully used in LNG tankers which already carry the gas with them.

By now, the shift has started to expand beyond these special vessels. China is set to switch around 10,000 inland waterway vessels to liquefied natural gas by 2020. In the container shipping industry, the first newly built multi-fuel engines which allow the use of liquid as well as gaseous fuels, are also already in the shipyards.

There is no doubt about it: The shipping industry is also approaching an energy transition. But it's important to remember that the example of the turnaround in the German electricity market has shown that changing an entire industry to alternative fuels is a demanding and complex process. It poses economic risks and technical challenges, it cannot happen overnight, and it has to rely on an internationally agreed and planned approach.

Market participants and policy, therefore, must gather under the banner of a "Green Deal" and form a clear commitment to the launch of LNG.

A disintegration of the maritime world into a regulatory patchwork would not only lead to distortions in competition, but also undermine climate protection efforts.

Unfortunately, such a "Green Deal" is still not in place following the Paris climate summit. The hopes and demands of the industry for a strengthened mandate of the IMO have not been fulfilled, and the climate agreement does not mention the shipping industry. Leading organizations and companies such as the European Shipowners Association (ECSA) and the container shipping company Maersk have therefore announced their role in taking action to accelerate the energy transition in the shipping industry.

The initiative underlines their unconditional willingness to act as the major players in the industry. At the same time, we must not be distracted from the true goal: Uniform environmental standards must be established at international level. A disintegration of the maritime world into a regulatory patchwork would not only lead to distortions in competition but also undermine climate protection efforts. A strong IMO as an international regulator is therefore essential.

For this to happen, we need to involve the German government, which is currently working on the details of a maritime agenda up to the year 2025. The enforcement of globally applicable environmental standards within the IMO must also be taken into account, just as much as the promotion of the maritime energy policy in German shipping. The previously presented key points of the agenda provide us with hope.

After Paris comes Marrakesh. In the coming months and years, the historic agreement in Paris must be brought to life with the implementation of real measures. International shipping can and will contribute to the achievement of climate and environmental objectives in Germany and worldwide.

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