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Going green for maritime transport

Reading time : 3 minutes

Responsible for almost 3% of greenhouse gas emissions linked to human activity, maritime transport vessels have a major role to play in reducing carbon emissions. Objective: to halve the sector's emissions by 2050.

We are in April 2018 in London, UK. One hundred states are represented at the heart of the headquarters of the International Maritime Organization or IMO, a United Nations body. The meeting is held on the occasion of the 72e session of the Marine Environment Protection Committee. The representatives of the Member States are on the verge of making a historic decision for the planet.

Because they will adopt a global strategy to reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the maritime transport. The objective set is up to the challenge: decrease by at least 50%, compared to 2008, the annual emissions of ships by 2050. But the purpose of the project goes even further: to eliminate them completely.

Here we are almost two years later and the IMO is making a first progress report. She just published her Fourth Greenhouse Gas Study. The first since the adoption of the initial strategy of April 2018. Conclusion: GHG emissions could increase by 50% by 2050 compared to the level of 2018. An admission of failure for the mission?

 How much do ships pollute the planet?

Now is the time to take a step back ... In 2012 to be precise. That year, maritime transport, whether it be passenger or freight transport, emitted 977 million tonnes of greenhouse gases. Mainly carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). In 2018, six years later, that figure reached 1076 million tonnes. Thus representing 2,89% of global emissions linked to human activity.

Despite everything, good news sheds light on the picture: carbon intensity has improved! Carbon intensity is the ratio between CO emissions2 and the production of a business. A (small) good point therefore: shipping companies produce less and less greenhouse gases, in proportion to the volumes transported. But, there is a but. The pace of carbon intensity reduction has slowed since 2012.

And now, back to the future! 2050. In terms of the quantity of GHGs emitted, regardless of the scenarios, the trend does not seem to be downward. At best, emissions will be equivalent to 2018, at worst, they would drop from 1000 million tonnes to 1500 million tonnes released by ships.

How to make maritime transport greener ?

These forecasts seem a priori bleak for the planet. However, initiatives are emerging to try to tip the scales on the right side. For example, alternative fuels are being developed or tested to move ships with low or even zero emissions. Like liquefied natural gas (LNG), a gas transformed into liquid form at very low temperature. Or methanol, an alcohol composed of oxygen, carbon and hydrogen. Or even liquid ammonia.

Another solution considered: electrification. A process that rather concerns ports and ferries. The idea: to create clean ports, following the example of certain northern European cities, such as Gothenburg in Sweden, Lübeck in Germany or the Danish island of Ærø. There, an electrified ferry makes the round trip between the mainland and the island several times a day. The electric solution, at least over short distances, therefore seems viable!

And to ensure that the turn is taken on time, the IMO is committed. A Virtual Symposium on Low Carbon Fuels was thus organized at the beginning of February. The goal: to offer a collaborative approach. The key to success for the conference moderator: “  Decarbonizing maritime transport is everyone's business and cooperation within the maritime community and beyond will be essential for success ».

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