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Shipping all at sea when it comes to defining decarbonisation

Shipping has no clear understanding of what decarbonisation means in real terms for the industry, a poll carried by this title suggests.

Prompted by Greg Atkinson, the chief technical officer at Japan’s Eco Marine Power, the latest MarPoll, our quarterly survey, gave readers seven definitions of of the word ‘decarbonisation’, asking them for the one that best matches their understanding of what the term means and/or encompasses. The first four available responses were taken from the websites of a university, a major automaker, a research paper and a safety and standards board. The last three available responses were definitions Atkinson proposed.

How can targets be set for reducing emissions and achieving decarbonisation when terms such as decarbonisation and zero emissions ships are not clearly defined

Atkinson’s argument made repeatedly in recent months has been to question how can targets be set for reducing emissions and achieving decarbonisation when terms such as decarbonisation and zero emissions ships are not clearly defined.

For example, what exactly is a zero emissions ship? Some would say it’s a vessel onboard which, propulsive power is provided by a solution that emits zero airborne emissions. But what about shore-based emissions?

Could a zero emissions ship using electrical propulsion and batteries still be considered “zero emissions” if the batteries are recharged from electricity generated by a coal-fired power plant? If the ship uses alternative fuels (including biofuels) are land-based emissions that result from the production of these fuels taken into account? Can a ship be deemed to be zero emissions if CO2 emissions are offset by planting trees or via carbon sequestration? Yes? No? Maybe?

Even the term “emissions” can mean different things. Does it mean all airborne emissions including for example lead emissions, or greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, or just CO2? What about discharges into the ocean? Are they not a concern?

Regarding decarbonisation this is defined in many different ways ranging from simply meaning the reduction of CO2 emissions to vague statements about removing carbon from economies and societies.

We understand the confusion too much information and too many interpretations, definitions and theoretical viewpoints can bring

Therefore to gain some understanding of how people view decarbonisation Splash and Maritime CEO canvassed our readership.

With more than 700 votes cast the results (see chart, below) show no clear leader, albeit a majority going for Atkinson’s own created three unofficial terms. The lack of a uniform comprehension on the terminology highlights the trouble shipping – and its regulators – face as they get down to negotiating the best way forward to meet environmental goals laid down by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) for 2030 and 2050.

The IMO does not have its own formal definition for decarbonisation but has adopted a greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction strategy. In November, the IMO will hold an important gathering of its Marine Environmental Protection Committee (MEPC) to try and thrash out short-term measures to cut the sector’s carbon footprint.

Richard Klatten, CEO of Future Proof Shipping, a Dutch outfit that has plans to construct 10 zero-emissions inland and short-sea vessels in the next five years, has clear views on these all important green definitions for shipping.

“We understand the confusion too much information and too many interpretations, definitions and theoretical viewpoints can bring,” Klatten says.

Klatten’s company looks at zero-emissions through an operational and practical lens, and not so much from a theoretical viewpoint, because ultimately, they are in the process of building a zero-emissions fleet.

“To set our sustainable boundaries, we have subscribed to the Global Maritime Forum list of zero carbon energy sources and align our energy sourcing with the hydrogen and synthetic non-carbon fuels category, which means zero GHG emissions,” Klatten explains.

To enable the transition to a decarbonised shipping sector, the phrase ‘zero carbon energy sources’ should be understood to cover energy sources and fuels that collectively have the potential to be scalable for supply of all of shipping’s energy demand in 2050,” the Dutch CEO argues.

With regards to the sailing and fuelling of Future Proof’s ships, zero-emissions means zero GHG emissions.

As shipping scrambles to find its future non-polluting fuel no official sustainability standards or related certification schemes are in place to ease the confusion.

This missing part of the fuel conundrum could be set to change however with news that the Sustainable Shipping Initiative (SSI) and Copenhagen Business School (CBS) are partnering to define criteria for new fuels’ sustainability credentials and to facilitate their certification.

The partnership will see the development of a set of sustainability criteria for marine fuels, applying these criteria to assess the alternative fuels currently being explored for zero-emission shipping. The criteria will also feed into a number of decarbonisation initiatives across the maritime and energy sectors. SSI will subsequently engage with certification bodies to facilitate the development of a sustainability standard or certification scheme for marine fuels.

Andrew Stephens, executive director at SSI, says the new partnership will contribute thought leadership to the broader debate currently underway in the maritime sector.

“Today, we have no clarity nor consensus on the sustainability issues surrounding the fuels being explored for shipping’s decarbonisation, and the criteria to assess their sustainability remain undefined. This work will contribute to this debate and ultimately, inform the selection of one or more winning options for zero-emission shipping,” Stephens says.

This article first appeared in the latest issue of Maritime CEO magazine. Splash readers can access the full magazine for free by clicking here.

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