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  • Can Shipping Achieve Zero Emissions?

Can Shipping Achieve Zero Emissions?

Feb 04 2019 Read 1018 Times

The chief of the largest container shipping company in the world is bullish over ambitions to phase out carbon emissions from the industry altogether by 2050. Speaking to the Financial Times, Søren Toft said that he hopes to revolutionise the entire way in which his company, Maersk, currently works and take positive steps towards a greener future.

Achieving the goal will be no mean feat given that shipping is responsible for approximately 80% of all global trade. Given that it contributes around 3% of carbon emissions from the planet, phasing them out completely would go some way towards tackling the problem of global warming and set an impressive precedent for other players in the industry - as well as other industries altogether - to emulate.

A dirty business

Unlike aviation or road transport, shipping has flown comparatively under the radar when it comes to imposing regulations on the industry. This has meant that container ships can use bunker fuel rather than diesel or petrol, which is a residue of crude oil. Although it is much cheaper than the alternatives, it’s also far more polluting, meaning shipping is responsible for 3% of all CO2 emissions.

Aside from the obvious atmospheric ramifications of these emissions, shipping can have deleterious effects on the animal life through whose habitats shipping lanes pass. As well as disrupting their eating, sleeping and mating patterns, the noise pollution caused by ships can also hamper animals’ perceptive faculties. With four-fifths of global trade travelling via ship, that may at present be a necessary evil in meeting consumer demand - but Toft believes that CO2 emissions are not.

Leading by example

As the largest shipping company in the business, Maersk emit 36 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent every year. 98% of that figure is produced by the ships themselves.

Recent months have already seen incremental improvements in shipping emissions and tighter regulation is set to be introduced in 2020, cutting the amount of sulphur allowable in bunker fuel. The International Maritime Organisation has also set a target of slashing emissions by 50% by 2050, but Toft wants to go one further and eliminate them altogether.

“We will have to abandon fossil fuels. We will have to find a different type of fuel or a different way to power our assets,” said Toft to the FT. “This is not just another cost-cutting exercise. It’s far from that. It’s an existential exercise, where we as a company need to set ourselves apart.”

Difficult road ahead

Toft’s ambitious plans will certainly take some living up to, not least given the unique challenges of the shipping industry. Since the vessels involved often have to travel distances of thousands of miles without pausing to be refuelled, the electric alternatives which have been employed successfully in road traffic are not an option.

Instead it will most likely take an as-yet unknown fuel source to help shipping achieve zero emissions by the deadline stated. “To reach the target by 2050, in the next 10 years we need some big breakthroughs,” said Toft.

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