IMO secretary-general urges shipowners to drive beyond green directives

Shipping is entering a new era on greenhouse gas emissions and all shipowners have a clear obligation to play their part. Credit: Shutterstock
Shipping is entering a new era on greenhouse gas emissions and all shipowners have a clear obligation to play their part. Credit: Shutterstock

Kitack Lim, secretary-general of the IMO, has told senior members of the maritime industry that shipping is entering a new era on greenhouse gas emissions and that all shipowners have a clear obligation to play their part.

Progress cannot simply be driven by directives from the IMO, Lim said.

He was speaking at the UK Chamber of Shipping in London on 26 September, which was meeting to explore issues confronting the IMO and its members as they prepare to take the next steps in developing a strategy to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from ships.

These will be determined at the 73rd gathering of the IMO’s Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC 73) which meets in London from 22–26 October.

Addressing the meeting at the UK Chamber, billed as the ‘IMO GHG Forum’, Lim called on IMO members to “maintain the momentum” started in April at MEPC 72, when the initial greenhouse gas strategy was agreed, to work towards phasing out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

He reaffirmed that there could be no delay in implementation of the IMO 2020 sulphur cap.

Nusrat Ghani, UK minister for maritime, expressed robust support, on behalf of the UK government, for the IMO’s green agenda, not just its greenhouse gas strategy but also in areas such as air pollution.

She cited figures showing that 11% of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the UK come from shipping and that air pollution is the country’s fourth-greatest threat to health. She envisages the UK being a “world centre for the green maritime revolution” alongside other countries, such as Norway and the Netherlands and confirmed the launch, later this year, of a Clean Maritime Council to drive the uptake of cleaner technologies and greener fuels and deliver a Clean Maritime Plan by the middle of next year, setting out the UK government’s policy ideas for addressing airborne emissions from shipping.

Opening the forum, Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of the UK Chamber, stressed the need for collective leadership in the industry and the need for specific solutions. Other speakers, including Budd Darr of MSC Group and Tom Strang of Carnival Corporation, agreed on the complexity of the challenge to decarbonise shipping but stressed the need for urgency.

Although the key target for the IMO strategy, to achieve a 50% reduction in total annual greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping, does not need to be achieved until 2050, Darr pointed out that because of the long-term nature of the industry, particularly the 30–40 year lifespans of ships, “2050 is essentially now.”

Nish Rehmatulla of the UCL Energy Institute in London said that to achieve the IMO’s goals, “zero emission fuels will need to be mature in 10 years”. He cited biofuels, hydrogen, and ammonia as having potential as alternative fuels, but, as Tore Longva from DNV GL noted, all face challenges, in most cases producing almost as much “well to propeller” CO2 emissions as fossil fuels, the only real exception being energy produced from water via electrolysis using cheap renewable energy, as previously discussed in IHS Markit.

Poul Woodall, from DFDS Group, raised a number of fundamental points to be addressed by the IMO in order to clarify the targets of its strategy and to measure progress – for example, the definition of the term ‘transport work’, the unit of measurement chosen by the IMO against which it aims to reduce CO2 emissions. He was one of a number of speakers who stressed that a one-size-fits-all approach across the entire shipping industry would not work, given the wide range of vessel characteristics and types of trade.

Patrick Carnie, chair of the Maritime Research and Innovation – UK working group led calls for much greater investment, including from the UK government, to help find a pathway to 2050.

Given the scale of the challenge facing the industry, there was general agreement that all options should be explored and the need for ‘thinking outside the box’. Some suggested that this should include consideration of nuclear power, possibly using thorium as fuel, despite the safety concerns this might raise and likely political and public resistance.