The talking cure

Shipping’s leaders expended more air of various temperatures this past week at a scaled down but still busy London International Shipping Week. The number one topic of conversation? You guessed it.

There was much talk of neutralising carbon, of projects large and small and a rousing British call for action by the IMO to double its existing target to cut carbon
by 50% by 2050 and instead achieve net zero by that date.

The UK Chamber of Shipping joined in, pointing out that the UK government’s recently published Sixth Carbon Budget, which included shipping for the first time and the recent Transport Decarbonisation Plan called for shipping to reach net zero by 2050.

Neither has been agreed at international level and few who live in the UK these days expect the government to stick to the targets it sets. It’s more about
demonstrating ambition and hoping it all comes good.

Delegates to the events began reporting climate fatigue around Tuesday lunchtime and by the closing dinner had probably sequestered enough carbon between them to avoid the need to plant a small forest.

The problem is that while LISW took place strategically during an IMO intercessional working group on the environment and ahead of the autumn’s big
Environment Committee get-together, most eyes are already turning to Glasgow.

It’s not a yen for deep-fried pizza or pints of Heavy that is drawing eyes northwards but the COP26 meeting which the UK will host and which should be an
important indicator of whether the growing slate of climate data and severe weather events are something the world feels it needs to act on.

What the industry understands is that regardless of the speed of decarbonisation so far, pressure for progress will only increase and that COP26 may be the jumping
off point. If so, it would be very difficult for the industry to comply with much beyond the most distant of emission reductions targets.

The lack of real time data, the pressure on enforcement bodies and the risks of regional variation in compliance are real issues. These are dwarfed by the
requirement for new fuels and the production and delivery infrastructure needed to support them.

One of the many panel discussions on reducing GHG emissions urged support for early movers in green technologies and alternative fuels, stressing the need for demonstration projects to get underway. Financial support from governments to establish pilot projects is a critical starting point for gathering data, improving technology and moving towards scalable solutions for industry.

In other words, the industry is in the talking phase but needs to take action.

For the moment, more talk is the most likely prospect with the subject not choice of fuel or energy efficiency but how to put a price on carbon. The International
Chamber of Shipping, made up of the industry’s national organisations, thinks it knows, but isn’t telling. The organisation – which also wants approval on a separate
bunker levy to pay for technology research and development – told Tradewinds “the quantum of the levy is ultimately a political question that will be determined
by governments”.

In a submission to IMO, the ICS indicated that the levy shouldn’t be disproportionately high until the industry has the technologies available to which it can transition. That envisages a carbon levy lower than prevailing carbon prices but high enough to close the gap between the zero-carbon fuels and conventional ones.

Co-sponsored by bulker owners group Intercargo, the ICS proposal calls for a five-year review, depending on available technology and the organisation is determined to avoid the market distortion it fears would be the result of the EU ETS.

The ICS told Tradewinds it was “concerned that governments simply view market-based measures as a revenue-raising exercise, by simply focusing on the quantum,
there’s a danger that they’ll then neglect what really needs to happen, which is taking the measures required to accelerate the development of the technology.”

Whatever is eventually agreed, the days of passing the talking emissions stick around have passed and the time has come to take meaningful measures. Actually
measuring in order to manage and define the scope of the problem seems a logical and economical place to begin.

Photo by Joao Cruz on Unsplash