Maritime transport, the cost of the energy transition

The future environmental rules for maritime transport are being played out at the moment. Meeting from June 10 to 17, representatives of the 174 countries of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) intend to agree on measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the sector. This represents 2.5% of global emissions.

The IMO must take action to achieve the objective set in 2018: reduce ship emissions by 40% by 2030 compared to 2008 and halve them by 2050.

How these goals will be implemented is at the heart of this week’s discussions. Shipowners may be required to measure emissions from each vessel. Delegations are also to discuss the pace of their reduction, with the proposal on the table being 1.5% per year, on average.

Environmental associations denounce a framework that is too light. “The annual reduction targets are not sufficient, and there is no sanction provided for in the event of non-compliance” says Faig Abbasov, in charge of the maritime transport branch of the Brussels non-governmental organization (NGO) Transport & Environment.

A study by ICCT, an American NGO, estimates that a 7% annual reduction in emissions would be required to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

Certain measures can help reduce emissions, such as reducing speed or installing filtering devices. But the heart of the problem lies in the fuel. Most ships run on heavy fuel oil, a major CO emitter2 and sulfur dioxide. The main alternative today is in liquefied natural gas (LNG). The French giant CMA-CGM has thus planned to deploy 26 container ships powered by this energy by 2022.

However, LNG remains a fossil fuel. It emits less greenhouse gases (industry professionals suggest a reduction of up to 20%) but it has the disadvantage of emitting methane. Transport & Environment estimates that, in an optimistic scenario, a transition to LNG can lead to a 10% reduction in emissions from the sector by 2050, or even an increase depending on the type of LNG used.

Skepticism also comes from part of the professionals. The world’s leading shipowner, Maersk, is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2050. For a time he considered LNG propulsion, then abandoned it. “We would prefer to switch to a type of CO neutral fuel2, declared its leader Soren Skou, at the end of 2020.

However, the alternatives to fossils are not yet viable, allege the shipowners. Methanol and ammonia fuel systems are the most advanced, but they would still be much more expensive than fuel oil. Hydrogen solutions or assisted propulsion in sailing are being studied.

How to finance the transition remains to be seen. The cost for first entrants could be high, and ports need to be equipped with infrastructure to resupply ships. “The difficulty for shipowners is to choose a route, knowing that a ship lasts between twenty-five and thirty years”, analysis Camille Valéro, project manager at the Higher Institute of Maritime Economy.

One of the solutions would be to tax carbon emissions to subsidize cleaner boats. The European Commission is thinking about it, and wants to integrate maritime transport into its European carbon market system. The measure will be presented in July.

Such a regional device is not favored by the industry. “Maritime transport is international by nature, and we have a clear preference for measures taken at this level, underlines Nelly Grassin, environment manager at Armateurs de France. We are more reserved on regional measures, because they could create a distortion of competition for European shipowners. “

Consequence: the sector is pushing for transitional measures, provided they are global. Maersk proposes the establishment of a carbon tax on ship fuel, at least $ 450 per tonne of fuel, which amounts to introducing a tax of $ 150 per tonne of CO2 issued. A timetable for negotiations and a global research and development fund are under consideration at IMO during the current session.


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