How Can Shipping Help Meet Net Zero Targets?

With the CO26 summit covering a wide array of topics, it appears almost nothing is off the table when it concerns finding ways of lowering emissions.

Transport has been part of the equation, but much of the focus has been on vehicle pollution and the development of public transport provision or electric vehicles, as well as the impact of the aviation sector.

However, COP26 has shone a light on the shipping industry and the challenge sea freight companies face. Shipping accounts for 90 per cent of global goods transportation, so how well it performs in this area matters, and the present situation is far from ideal.

As researchers from the University of Manchester, writing in The Conversation, have said, the industry still mainly runs on fossil fuels, emissions account for three per cent of the global total – more than Germany – and, worst of all, they have not fallen in the last decade.

The experts said much of the problem lies with the International Maritime Organization (IMO), a UN body that is currently only targeting a 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2050. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has criticised the figures as being out of step with the Paris Agreement.

Their study concluded that to get on track to reach net zero by 2050, shipping companies must cut emission by a third by 2030.

Another expert, Peter van Duyn of Deakin University in Australia, noted that some progress has been made in Glasgow, with 14 nations signing a deal to reach net zero in shipping by 2050.

However, he noted, these are major challenges. Left unchecked, shipping would account for 17 per cent of emission by 2050, but shipping, like aviation, is fuel intensive by nature of the long journeys involved. Moreover, because both happen in international waters or airspace, emissions cannot be easily categorised under any one country’s total.

On a more positive note, Mr Van Duyn noted shipping bosses present at COP26 showed willingness to find solutions, which may be a crucial first step in pushing for the development of new technologies to power freight ships without running up huge carbon footprints.