ICS official: Most shipping will move beyond fossil fuels by 2050


As vessel operators prepare for a new low-sulfur fuel mandate in 2020, an International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) official has predicted that global shipping should be largely free of fossil fuels around 2050.

Speaking at the Platts Mediterranean marine bunker fuel conference in Athens in November, ICS Director of Policy Simon Bennett said the momentum created by the Paris Agreement on climate change would lead to a “relentless and inevitable” wholesale switch to alternative fuels and propulsion systems.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) deadline for using bunker fuel with 0.5 percent sulfur content is set for January 2020. Also, IMO member states are developing a strategy to further reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from shipping, scheduled to be adopted in April 2018 with an eventual goal of zero emissions.

The ICS is confident that technology and bunkering infrastructure will develop to support zero-emission propulsion systems such as fuel cells, batteries powered by renewable energy, “or some other solution we can’t yet anticipate,” Bennett said.

In the meantime, the industry must manage the transition to alternative fuels while meeting demands for increased maritime transport as the world’s population and trade continue to grow, he said.

The most likely transition to reduce CO2 emissions will involve moving to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and possibly biofuels beyond the IMO low-sulfur cap, according to Kathy Metcalf, president and CEO of the Chamber of Shipping of America.

“For newbuilds, we’re seeing either scrubber installations during the newbuild stage or moving to other fuels, primarily LNG at this point in time,” she said. “The industry is working very hard to be ready for 2020, but there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding adequate supplies of low-sulfur fuel and its expected cost.”

For a more achievable CO2 goal, the shipping industry has proposed that IMO member states agree to hold the entire sector’s total CO2 emissions below 2008 levels. The IMO has drawn up a list of possible short-, medium- and longer-term CO2 reduction measures.

“This is actually very ambitious, as the CO2 emissions from the rest of the world economy are predicted by the U.N. to continue increasing until the 2030s, even taking account of the commitments governments have made under the Paris Agreement,” Bennett said.

He said the IMO should establish a percentage for reducing the sector’s total CO2 emissions by the middle of the century, but that goal has to be technically and politically realistic. The strategy must take into account the legitimate concerns of emerging economies such as China, India and Brazil.

The IMO could develop a market-based measure — most likely a fuel tax — as part of the initial CO2 reduction strategy to be determined in April. However, fuel is already the largest cost the shipping industry faces, and it is expected to rise again as the new sulfur cap comes into effect. The rising cost leaves little to no room to add an additional fuel levy to incentivize industry behavior, Bennett said.

By Professional Mariner Staff